Each spring, the Holtz Center invites proposals from all UW-Madison faculty and academic staff for its Outreach Fellowship program. The program supports faculty and staff working on projects that propose an innovative way to engage the broader community of science and technology that have general social and political importance. The annual fellowship provides the recipient or group with $5,000 in flexible funds.
The Kickapoo River and Coon Creek watersheds have experienced five, 100-year-magnitude floods in just the last decade and climate forecasts predict this pattern to intensify. The worst of these floods, occurring just this past August, devastated homes, businesses, farms, and community spaces throughout some of the most rural and economically disadvantaged counties in the state. Dams were compromised. Residents were evacuated. Rivers rose above historical marks by more than two feet in some places. Communities were deluged, with many houses, businesses, and farm buildings condemned or abandoned. Farmers lost crops and acreage as topsoil washed downstream.
Following the flood, community members came together to clean out buildings and repair the damage. People donated money, food, clothing, shelter, and other essentials to help neighbors survive. State and federal agencies got involved. Villages along waterways discussed how to become more flood resilient, even if it meant moving every building to higher ground.
The flood’s most dramatic impacts were shared on social media, in regional newspapers, and on local radio stations. But Vernon and Crawford Counties, where most of the devastation occurred, are sparsely populated and poor. They lack local media with sufficient resources to cover the topic in-depth over time. Residents continue to process what happened, rebuild, and worry about an uncertain future. However, no channel exists for them to record their complete stories and read or hear the stories of others. While the immediate aftermath of the August flooding in Vernon and Crawford counties made the state and even national news, external attention—and external funding—has turned elsewhere while residents continue the long process of recovery.
In light of this damage, The Driftless Writing Center, in collaboration with libraries in the Winding Rivers Library System and Southwest Wisconsin Library System, recently launched the Stories from the Flood initiative, a project to collect and produce thorough accounts of what people, municipalities, and the environment have endured as climate change alters their lives and landscape. The collection, archiving, production, and distribution of these stories is a massive undertaking that will take support from individuals and institutions inside and outside the Valley. The Holtz Center Outreach Fellowship helps support collaboration with the Driftless Writing Center on the project, connecting place-based research, teaching, and service in innovative and powerful ways.
Through preproduction, story collection, story production, story archiving, and story sharing, Stories from the Flood offers Valley residents a platform for working through their collective experiences, while serving as a platform for watershed-wide planning about the future of flooding in the Kickapoo Valley.
Stories from the Flood offers an innovative and timely platform for engaging Kickapoo Valley residents in considering where flood planning and river management have gone wrong, and working collectively to consider what kinds of scientific and community knowledge will be necessary for living in an increasingly uncertain future. Without a doubt, these questions are of central importance to the social, political, and ecological futures of the Kickapoo Valley.
Dates, times, and locations for storytelling opportunities are listed online and on the group’s Facebook page. Those interested in writing or recording their stories can contact the Driftless Writing Center at 608-492-1669 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Consider supporting the Stories from the Flood project by visiting their fundraising page.
Driftless Writing Center blog
Driftless Writing Center to collect stories from the flood (La Crosse Tribune)
Stories from the Flood: Will You Share Yours? (River Alliance of Wisconsin)
All photographs by Emma Lundberg, 2018 and may be reproduced with permission from the authors.