MIDDLETON (WKOW) — The trails are snow-covered and the trees are bare, but the damage at Pheasant Branch Conservancy is still there after 2018’s historic flooding.
As you walk along the paths, it’s hard to see any creatures strolling through the tundra-like landscape.
Among the sound of the wind, you can hear geese in the distance. Minutes later, you likely could get a fly-by in the sky. They’re the same skies that dumped historic rains in 2018.
“This is my adopted wetland,” said Tom Bernthal, a member of The Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy.
Bernthal has called the wetlands his happy place for the past 23 years. Yet, he’ll never forget the damage the flooding in 2018 had on the peaceful conservancy.
“This whole marsh was a lake,” he said as he looked over the land.
Mother Nature’s fury caused the banks of Pheasant Branch Creek to overflow. Paths for runners and bikers couldn’t be seen for days, and even after the waters receded, some paths eroded away. Bridges that connected gravel paths were moved and trees fell down around the conservancy.
“It was heartbreaking,” said city administrator Mike Davis in an interview with 27 News in 2018 after the storms let up.
Conservancy volunteers say the damage will cost nearly $2.5 million to repair.
Pam Shannon, the co-president of The Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy, said 2019 will likely be a year in which leaders evaluate their options.
She said the city is still waiting to hear back from FEMA on whether federal funds will be approved. She hopes restoration will be complete in 2020.
“Our major goal is just to get that path re-established and clear out all the trees that were down and the five bridges that were knocked off their bases,” said Bernthal.
With no official plan set in place yet, Shannon says visitors can expect partial closures as they hope Mother Nature gives this peaceful escape a break.
“You know, it could be extreme and you just have to be flexible and resilient to deal with the consequences,” said Bernthal.
He said volunteers have made progress getting rid of invasive species, but now he fears the floodwaters may have moved seeds of invasive plants throughout the conservancy.
“My fear is what will pop up this spring,” said Bernthal.