Clarksville throws party to thank flood helpers

Sunday, June 14, 2009 | 5:59 p.m. CDT

CLARKSVILLE — Despite a love and hate relationship with the Mississippi River, Clarksville has always kept a sense of humor.

The tiny town that fought a titanic battle against last year's floodwaters is hosting a "Thank You Party" for all who lent their muscles, minds and money. The event is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 27 at, you guessed it, Riverfront Park in downtown Clarksville.

"We survived and we decided we should celebrate," said Erin Garrison, one of the organizers. "We didn't have much chance for fun last year."


The flood-fighting that began in the spring and lasted through fall drew worldwide attention. Television satellite trucks lined Second Street and reporters from New York and London arrived to chronicle the showdown.

The National Guard and thousands of volunteers built a sandbag levee 12-feet high along Front Street to protect several blocks of the downtown.

The wily river sneaked in behind a few barriers to flood neighborhoods on the south side and shut down parts of Missouri 79.

The water level rose to 36.70 feet on June 24, 2008. It was the third-worst flood in Clarksville history, behind only the 36.76 recorded on April 24, 1973 and the 37.50 measured on July 29, 1993.

"The effort last year was herculean," said Garrison, who is co-owner with her husband Bud of Great River Road Pottery & Wood Shop, one of several businesses that are just a stone's throw from the river.

After the water receded, Garrison and others realized they had unique stories to tell and wanted to get flood-fighters together and share memories before they slipped away.

"We began to realize how many things we saw that no one else knew," Garrison said. "We thought people need to know how many worked hard. They'll be able to describe how they felt. Talking about the flood is cathartic."

The town of 400 residents draws thousands of tourists each year with its scenic beauty, artistic shops and friendly atmosphere. While flood recovery continues and a gloomy economy has taken its toll in job losses, Clarksville is holding its own. Funding for the June 27 festival is coming from donations.

Garrison is unsure how many people to expect. "It could be 100 or 1,000," she said. "We're going to plan for the most we can possibly afford."

Mayor Jo Anne Smiley and other dignitaries will address the crowd at noon. There will also be games and a meal. People are encouraged to bring photos of the 2008 flood for display and tape recorders will be available for those who wish to preserve their stories.

A digital video from the flood will be shown for the first time and there will be musical performances. One contest that's raising eyebrows is the sandbag toss. There will be different weight classes and prizes will be awarded for the farthest tosses.

Didn't Clarksville get enough of chucking sandbags last year? "It's a little tongue-in-cheek," Garrison admitted. "We put up a million sandbags, let's see how far we can throw one now."


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