Episode 2: The Power of Experience (with Caroline Gottschalk Druschke)
The Driftless region of Wisconsin is no stranger to flooding. Its spectacular valleys and ridges were formed by the flow of rushing water over millions of years. But in recent memory, the floods are getting more intense, and happening more often—a combination that is having a profound impact on local people and communities. In this episode, we’ll hear stories from people who experienced the flooding firsthand, from farmers to firefighters. And we’ll hear from people who think that these stories might just hold the key for creating a sustainable future in the Driftless—and beyond.
Photo by Tim Hundt of the Steve Fortney farm near Soldiers Grove in Crawford County taken on August 29th, 2018. Steve is a fifth generation farmer who is trying to hang on to the family farm but told Tim it is getting harder and harder as the Kickapoo River has been out of its banks so many times over the last 15 years. His home is on high ground on the hillside so has escaped major damage but his buildings now get flooded on a regular basis.
Photo by Tim Hundt of water rising on the main bridge that sits over the Kickapoo River in the community of Viola on August 29, 2018. The highest water had not yet reached Viola but was working its way down the River from the communities of Ontario and La Farge. The river would eventually crest in Viola at 23.72 feet beating the old record of 21.25 feet set just 10 years earlier in June of 2008.
In 2019, The Driftless Writing Center based in Viroqua submitted a grant application to Wisconsin Humanities describing "Stories from the Flood." The project was to record interviews with residents about their experiences of the catastrophic flood of 2018 at workshops like the one pictured above. "Stories from the Flood" was awarded a Major Grant and the seed of that idea has grown and continues to expand.
Wisconsin Humanities gives $200,000 in grants every year to organizations of all sizes and all around the state. With seven annual deadlines, we support locally-initiated public humanities programs that promote reflection, dialogue, and civic participation. Learn more about our grant program here.
Erosion in the Black River watershed, Wisconsin (1935)]
Much has been written about the region, as well as the work of Wisconsin's famed conservationist Aldo Leopold's work there in the 1930s. We recommend checking out:
- "Birth of a Conservation Movement: Contour Farming in Wisconsin," for an overview.
- "Coon Valley Days: A short history of the Coon Creek Watershed Demonstration Project," about the nation's first watershed project.
- "Wading Out the Kickapoo River Flood," about a cross-disciplinary research project led by Caroline Gottschalk Druschke and Eric Booth.
- The Driftless Reader, edited by Curt Meine, with writing by Black Hawk, Mark Twain, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Frank Lloyd Wright, Aldo Leopold, David Rhodes, and many others.
More than 100 people have been interviewed so far as part of the "Stories from the Flood" project. The stories in this episode from Nick and Ellen Voss, Clinton Bagstad, Ryan McGuire, and Cele Wolf were generously shared and used with permission.
How do local events, like flooding, fit into the big picture of climate change? And how can we understand the scientific data using local examples? Beyond The Headlines is a program of Wisconsin Humanities that looks at how journalists partner with communities to be part of the solution. The website provides many resources, including these tips for reporting local climate stories from an independent organization of scientists and journalists.
Wisconsin Humanities hosted a very special event for journalists, water experts, and community leaders about water issues in our state as part of the Beyond The Headlines project. Panelists addressed how to share data and stories and help Wisconsin citizens stay informed. The event was recorded and can be viewed here.
Caroline Gottschalk Druschke is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she directs the Headwaters Lab. Informed by her training across rhetorical studies and freshwater sciences, Gottschalk Druschke's teaching and research interests are community-driven and focused squarely on the intersections of stream restoration, flooding, and community-level resilience in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin. She splits her time between the Yahara, Kickapoo, and Pere Marquette watersheds and would always rather be with family near, on, or preferably in water.
Tim Hundt has worked as a journalist in the Driftless Region for the last 20 years: as a reporter for the Vernon County Broadcaster, News Director for three radio stations in Viroqua (WVRQ-Q102-WKPO), and as a freelancer livestreaming under the VernonReporter name. He has covered the flooding that has impacted the region as well as environmental issues, local government, and politics. Born and raised in La Crosse County on a dairy farm at the top of the Coon Creek watershed, Tim now lives in Viroqua where he works as a district representative for Congressman Ron Kind. He has written about the watersheds including the Lessons of Coon Creek and worked with the Driftless Writing Center on the “Stories From Flood” project that included a video he produced about the watersheds.
Curt Meine is a conservation biologist, historian, and writer who serves as a senior fellow with both the Aldo Leopold Foundation and the Center for Humans and Nature, and as associate adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has written several books, including Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work (University of Wisconsin Press, 1988). You can read his reflections on The Driftless Area, where he lives, in "The Edge of Anamoly" and hear him interviewed on Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.
Nick and Ellen
Ellen and Nick Voss live with their coonhound Loki on a small farm near Soldiers Grove in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area. They spend their free time fly fishing for trout and muskies, finding new rivers to paddle, and road biking. Ellen is the Aquatic Invasive Species Program Director with River Alliance of Wisconsin, and Nick is the head fly fishing guide at the Driftless Angler fly shop in Viroqua.
Host: Jimmy Gutierriez
Senior Producer: Craig Eley
Producers: Jessica Becker, Jen Rubin, and Jade Iseri-Ramos
Executive Producers: Brijetta Hall Waller and Dena Wortzel
Photographer: Tim Hundt