Reflections On A River Town

by | Aug 15, 2023 | Climate Action, Featured, Instagram, News

Ilianna and friends enjoy a summer picnic at Mosquito Park

Burlington, Iowa; this city (and city is a generous word, as there are only about 20,000 of us inhabiting the space) is where I call home. Burlington is located in the southeast corner of Iowa, as far southeast as you can go without crossing over the Mississippi into Illinois. It was a pleasant area to grow up in and not too big; where I was afraid to drive in traffic as a fourteen-year-old, but big enough that I did not know everyone in my high school.

My best memories growing up were fishing in the river and spending time with my friends in the downtown area. The place to go as a teenager was down to the riverfront. People would bring food to eat, people-watch, take cute pictures, and hang out. Last summer, my friends and I planned a Pinterest-worthy picnic outside overlooking the riverfront at Mosquito Park. We all dressed up, brought a big blanket and picnic basket, and ordered food from McAllister’s. It was the perfect girls’ day out. Everyone seemed to gravitate towards the river. It was not a conscious decision; it was simply an enjoyable area to be in and everyone liked being there together.

Another way I like to enjoy the river is alone. It’s so utterly peaceful and spiritual to walk or sit along the water’s edge. Sometimes I will bring a blanket and journal to write out my frustrations from the day, other times I’ll just lay there and think. It is so crucial to have a moment to yourself to reset, recharge, and just be. Simply existing and just existing is a powerful thing. There is so much pressure on individuals to constantly be doing something, but sometimes it’s okay to just experience life and be mindful.

I cannot imagine not being able to have this quality time near the water, both with company and in solitude. However, the effects of climate change are slowly wreaking havoc on these opportunities. The Mississippi River is the life line, but also a constant threat to my city. The water levels have been historically high. Last April, Burlington constructed a 20-foot high barrier to mitigate flooding. While this flood wall is so desperately needed to keep any water from crushing downtown, it also makes enjoying the water more difficult. Boating with my best friend and her family, one of my favorite river activities, has proved to be challenging in recent years. Since the flood walls are up and the water is dangerously high, we couldn’t back up a truck to unhitch the boat even if we wanted to.

Water breaks the flood barriers, flooding four blocks of downtown Burlington in 2019

Many of Burlington’s best restaurants are sandwiched near the port and have patios that overlook the water. I remember going to a restaurant called Big Muddy’s as a child that served entrees like frog legs, shrimp, crab, and amazing house fries. However, since the restaurant was so close to the river, the owners would have to rebuild or touch up the building constantly due to flooding. After the 2008 flood, the entire restaurant had to be renovated, but a yellow line was marked on the doorway to indicate how high the water had been. As a child, I couldn’t touch the line. As a young adult, the line comes up to my chest. The restaurant has since closed down, but I can’t help but wonder where and when we will draw the line when it comes to taking action on the climate crisis in our state. Being a river town, Burlington is always under constant threat of the river flooding, potentially destroying homes and businesses. I don’t want to see all of the best parts of my childhood washed away due to flooding, erosion, and water damage. The time for climate action is now. Let’s draw the line.

By 2023 Called To Climate Action Student Leader, Ilianna Murphy

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