CHIPPEWA FALLS — Larry Preston was speechless when he arrived at the Duncan Creek Campground on Thursday. His 39-foot-long camper, which had been on the property for the past eight years, was gone. Rushing water through Duncan Creek had torn it off its footings and carried it down the stream.
“My wife just yelled and screamed and flipped out,” Preston said. “I’m still in shock. It is around the bend. I didn’t want to go look for it.”
The camper isn’t the only item gone. Their deck, golf cart, chairs and a shed filled with tools all were pulled away by the fast-moving water.
Preston, who lives in Bloomer, said he routinely spends summer days at the camper, located in the town of Tilden about three miles north of Chippewa Falls.
“I loved it. It’s the camaraderie, and the owners,” Preston said. “We all stick together.”
Now, Preston said he was waiting to hear from an insurance agent Friday to find out what he can claim as losses.
Stephen Williams said he created the Duncan Creek Campground, 12931 100th Ave., in 1972. This was only the second time it has ever flooded. His home is just a couple football fields away from the campground. He was saddened to see the Prestons lose their camper.
“They had the nicest trailer on the nicest site,” Williams said.
Fifty campers stay on the 12-acre site year-round, with the property open May through October. On a busy summer day, there could be 300 people on the grounds.
Annie Williams said 14 of the campsites had some type of damage. She has already contacted each of the owners.
The Chippewa Falls area saw heavy rainfall on Wednesday. Stephen Williams said the problems on Duncan Creek started to become apparent early in the day Thursday, as water started rushing over the top of a private dam on their property, upstream from the campground. The dam on Duncan Creek helps create the Tilden Mill Pond.
Over the course of the day, the top barrier on the dam gave way; the bulk of the dam remains in place, he said.
“When that top piece came off, and it’s a 67-acre lake, that flushed it down,” Stephen Williams said. “It’s scary when that much water comes over the dam.”
Downstream from the dam, at the campgrounds, the water level quickly rose, with Preston’s trailer washed away and another getting caught up in trees.
“The campers were up and floating,” Annie Williams said. “The water was coming down at a good speed.”
It is unclear when the dam can be refurbished. Annie Williams said they need to get estimates and a professional engineer to look at the damage.
“It’s not a state dam, so there is absolutely no state funding for it,” she said.
Michael Rogney, a Department of Natural Resources dam safety engineer who was on the scene this week, said he was surprised the top of the dam broke.
“I’ve been out there before. We were working with the dam owners for a couple of years,” Rogney said. “It was pretty significant (damage). There was a concrete portion that dislodged and was downstream.”
There are approximately 3,800 dams in the state, and about 60 percent are maintained on private property, he added.
Rogney didn’t have a timeline for when Preston’s camper must be removed from the creek, saying they’ll likely have to wait for the water level to drop first.
The Tilden Mill Pond’s water level is down perhaps four feet, Stephen Williams said.
Even with the damage, the Williamses are confident they’ll be ready to open on schedule.
“We’ll be pulling up the trees out of there and clearing it up. When the grass starts growing, it will look really different in two weeks,” Stephen Williams said.