WOSTER: Changing river changes lives in Fort Pierre, PierreIf you live anywhere near Pierre or Fort Pierre these days, there isn’t much to talk about besides the Missouri River flooding.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
If you live anywhere near Pierre or Fort Pierre these days, there isn’t much to talk about besides the Missouri River flooding.
I haven’t been out of the office enough to see much of the two communities first hand, but after more than 40 years as a resident of the capital city, I think I know the area pretty well. We bought our first boat in 1974. We’re on our third one now. It’s nine years old and has pounded its way up and down the channel below the Oahe Dam and across the broad water of the reservoir above the same.
Even so, sometimes as I look at aerial photographs, watch video news clips or see snapshots people have taken with their cameras and phones, I have a hard time recognizing some of the places I’ve known for decades. Sandbars that mark strategic spots in the river channel haven’t been seen for a couple of weeks. Some of the small, tree-lined islands where folks beach their boats and pitch their lawn chairs in normal times are marked only by the trees sticking above the surface of the water. The fury of the flow can be seen by the distinct Vs the water forms as it breaks around the trunks of the half-submerged trees.
North of the highway bridge that spans the river between Pierre and Fort Pierre, a huge sandbar formed long ago. It has grown and shifted over the years I’ve been boating the river, and it reaches from an island upstream down nearly to the bridge. In lower-water years, huge expanses of sand are out of the water. In those years, it’s an inviting and happy place, with boats pulled up to the edge of the sand, volleyball nets stretched tight and coolers, umbrellas and shade tents scattered here and there.
In lower-water years, a channel — not the main channel of the river, but a small, secondary channel — runs between the sandbar and the west bank of the Missouri. The channel leads upstream past several housing developments, and we like to putter up that way on a lazy summer Sunday, even though a person must pay attention or run the risk of plowing muddy sand in the shallows.
With the river running at 150,000 cubic feet per second, the bottom is well below the lower unit of any boat I’ve ever seen. The photographs show the river spilling over the banks, across the lawns and up against the sandbag walls that citizens who never dreamed they would need such skills have learned to build in the last couple of weeks.
One of my favorite young families in all of Pierre and Fort Pierre lives in one of the houses on that west shore. They did what they could to protect their belongings, built a wall of sandbags with the help of a whole crew of family members and friends, and then they moved out. I pray they are able to move back in one day soon, but I can’t know that. Far worse, neither can they.
Downstream a ways, two of my oldest friends own a home in a development that features a canal system with access to the main channel of the Missouri. They are the parents and in-laws of the younger family upstream. My old friends, also with the help of family, friends and neighbors, stored what they could of their possessions, did their best to protect the house and moved out.
They live elsewhere in town, watch the river as it rushes down the channel and hope they will have a home to return to when the water finally slows and falls. They hope, but they don’t know.
In summers past, when Nancy and I have been out on the river with our friends, I have almost always been able to make them laugh with goofy things I say. I wish I could do that today, but the clever words don’t come.