Eulogy for a creek
A buried childhood playground.
We didn’t even know how to spell it. Was it Bar Creek, Bahr Creek or Barr Creek? We may not have known the name, but we knew how to enjoy it.
What I call the South Branch of the Bar Creek ran through the backyards of people living on Wisconsin Avenue and Center Street in Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, when I was a kid. It must have been straightened at some time because it ran pretty well in a line from Second Street to Main Street. Just before Main Street it entered a tunnel behind Les-n-Les’ Garage and Evanoff’s Variety Store. It was enclosed (buried) as it ran beneath Main Street and the Cal-Dutch Canning Factory property before emerging into the open again near the “old stink pond.” From there it meandered until it joined the North Branch near what we called the “septic tank,” the waste water disposal site for the village.
But back to the South Branch. At the “top” it seemed to rise out of a field just west of Second Street. It wasn’t fed by a crystal-clear spring with watercress beds and native brook trout. It was more of a wish than a creek, but snowmelt, rain and some sort of natural drainage and seepage caused it to flow at times.
For us kids, that creek was a playground. Tom Brasser, Jim Jensen, the VerGowes and the Gesches – to name but a few – conducted adventures along the creek. Little children sometimes put a string and a hook on a willow and tried fishing there. . . when it contained water. The creek bed proved a good place to hide and ambush other gangs when we played some version of war.
One year we went down to Evanoff’s and found – to our delight – that some spawning white suckers from Lake Michigan had made it up the creek, then made a long underground trip through the culverts and were hovering in the water of “our” creek. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, we thought to ourselves, if some pike would come up from the lake to our creek? This was before the salmon and trout fishery in Lake Michigan was established in the 1960s.
A favourite spot of ours was one low spot where that straightened creek widened into a sort of marsh. Could there be muskrats there? Yes, sometimes. Jim Jensen got some #1 traps and we tried to catch some, to no avail. I thought I once saw a mink track in the snow in that marsh. There were marshy plants, and rabbits in the long grass for us to hunt with stones, clubs and BB guns.
The problem with the creek was that in years of high snowmelt or heavy showers it sometimes went over its banks and flooded parts of some back lawns. That’s when someone proposed a “solution.” Why not simply put the creek in a huge underground culvert and connect it to its existing tunnel under Main Street? Said and done.
That also meant that the land to the west of Second Street could be developed. Sure enough, a couple of bungalows were built right over the headwaters of the creek. Just put the creek into culverts and backfill. Ergo: a new building lot.
And so it goes. Whenever I visit Cedar Grove, Wisconsin now, I look with nostalgia at the route of “our” creek, now made safe for lawns. The children? Well, they can go to rec centres, pools and playgrounds, developed by the village.
The end of that part of Bar Creek. Accomplished and delivered. Said and done. Today’s children don’t even know enough about it to lament its passing.