Wayne Henderson has been an outdoor enthusiast all his life.
Now, at age 75, he bikes 30 miles a day. I caught him at mile 15 of his journey as he, his brother and two friends contemplated the “Park Closed” sign at flooded N.P. Dodge Park that blocked their way north along the Omaha Riverfront Trail.
“Worst flooding since 1952,” said Wayne, who lives in the lowlands of Council Bluffs near the Iowa end of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. “Isn't that incredible?”
Wayne was an outdoorsman in the early 1950s, too — so much so that he would head out from his Bluffs home and go swim in the Missouri River.
That was in the years before Gavins Point Dam up north was finished, before the flow of the Missouri River was held and released throughout the year to reduce the impact of spring mountain runoff and spring storms and promote barge traffic.
“It looked more like the Platte (River) back then,” Wayne said.
“It was still crazy to swim in it, though,” his brother Arthur said. “Our parents would have killed us if they had found out.
“Nobody should swim in the thing now,” Wayne said. “It's so deep and fast.”
Now, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers struggling to deal with the water, the river will spread into the valley it once meandered and flooded every few years.
“You've got two generations or so of people who probably don't even think that river can flood,” said Arthur, who is a year and a half younger than Wayne. “It's been so long. People who lived in the valley used to just expect to be run out every few years. Now you've got people there who seem to be shocked that their land is flooded.
“Well, now wait,” Wayne said to his brother. “The people in Hamburg (Iowa) are always dealing with it. They're always down there sandbagging this or that.”
“Sometimes you wonder why some people decide to keep living in a place,” Arthur said.
Back to 1952.
On the Council Bluffs side, the brothers said, a wooden wall was erected near their home with sandbags piled behind it to brace against the water.
Still, the Henderson family evacuated for “two or three weeks,” Arthur said.
Today, Wayne and Arthur live in the same neighborhood where they lived as boys. Now, though, the land is protected by dikes.
Arthur said that on previous occasions when the river was high, water has seeped into the basement of his home.
Realizing the highest water in 59 years was heading his way, Arthur bought flood insurance.
“It's backed by the government,” Arthur said.
“Yeah,” his brother said. “Who else would sell flood insurance during a flood?”
Even if he couldn't have gotten insurance, Arthur said, he wasn't all that worried.
“It probably won't be bad for us,” he said.
“I don't think we have much of a right to complain anyway,” Wayne said. “Sixty years in a river valley and we've been just fine? That's a pretty good run.
“I mean, it's a river. You've got to expect it's going to flood at some point.”
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