The Flood... Before and After

We've been enjoying our stay in East Grand Forks, especially the nearby greenway along the river and the nice collection of restaurants... all within walking distance. The car hasn't moved since we've been here.

As I mentioned in my last post, the Sherlock Campground in the Red River State Recreation Area was a residential neighborhood prior to the big flood of 1997. When the water receded and plans for higher levees were drawn up it was determined that this part of town was just too low to be adequately protected from future flooding. The owners of these properties were bought out, the homes, which had been severely damaged by the record flood, were removed, and the land became part of the new State Recreation Area.

The streets through the campground are the very same ones that carried traffic through the neighborhood. In many areas, the sidewalks also remain. Between our camp and the downtown commercial/entertainment district, only two or three blocks away, is a new levee that now protects East Grand Forks. I climbed to the top of that levee and pointed the camera down 2nd Street toward downtown (the dry side of the levee), to the southeast. The second picture is from the exact same spot but toward the old neighborhood in the opposite direction.
2nd Street looking southeast into downtown from levee
2nd Street, looking northwest into campground from levee
It was April 1997. The Red River, which has a long history of flooding, started to rise as warm weather melted an unusually heavy snow pack. The National Weather Service, which is charged with making accurate flooding projections, predicted the flood would crest at 49 feet -- a serious but probably manageable level for the towns. But the river kept rising, topping flood walls and breaking through levees, until it finally crested at 54 feet... a full 5 feet above the projections of an embarrassed Weather Service. Water was everywhere. The downtown areas of both Grand Forks and East Grand Forks were covered in 6 and 8 feet of water. A fire broke out in downtown Grand Forks but the record water depth prevented any fire fighting efforts and the fire consumed building after building until 9 large downtown buildings were destroyed and several more damaged. Most people were evacuated from both towns as the waters rose and there was no loss of life directly attributed to the flood. But normal life stopped as the waters slowly receded. It was a full month before many people were able to get back to their homes and businesses... and begin to rebuild their lives.

Bridge between Grand Forks and East Grand Forks during flood.

Downtown Grand Forks during flood of 1997
In the following few years the towns did rebuild. Learning from experience, a new system of levees and flood walls were constructed that top out at 60 feet... six feet above that record flood level. Large areas on both sides of the river were designated as a greenway where no development is permitted. Our campground is part of that greenway. Miles of heavily used trails run up and down both sides of the river along it -- perfect for that early morning long walk or weekend bike ride.

It's been estimated that about 3% of Grand Forks' population relocated away from the area in the months and years after the flood. But in East Grand Forks it was more like 17%.

Dar and I, during our limited time here, have found the area vibrant and refreshing. It's rare indeed that we eat out two nights in a row, but that's exactly what we've done. Monday night it was the Blue Moose and last night it was Whitey's, an East Grand Forks institution since 1925. According to legend, Al Capone (yeah, that Al Capone from Chicago) was involved in the original ownership of Whitey's. I can't vouch for that, but can report we really enjoyed both places.

We're extending our stay here one more night in order to get laundry caught up. It may be some time before we have full hookups again and the supply of clean underwear was near critical level. On Thursday we'll head west again.

Getting the bikes ready for a long ride along the river...


Paul Weaver said…
Amazing pictures and story, Tom. I'll put that on my list of "future sites to see." Neat!


Another interesting post, great historical background. I like the nice roads in the campground, what a good use to put the land to.
Thom Hoch said…
Thanks to both of you. It really is an uplifting story of how an area dealt with such adversity and was able to come back with such vigor. I hope you stop and check it out for yourselves when you're through this area.

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