Because of the torrents of water, a number of roads, bridges, houses, outbuildings, and yards were destroyed, leaving folks along the river without many of the things they had come to assume were permanent fixtures of their properties and community.
On Sunday, August 26, the residents of South Newfane are having a celebration to commemorate the anniversary of the flood. More precisely, the Rock River Revival Parade and celebration will commemorate the resiliency of folks who weathered the flood and pay recognition to those who helped in the community’s recovery. The parade is also a fundraiser for the Williamsville Fire Department, which also serves South Newfane.
“Everybody’s welcome,” said Carol Ross, one of the event’s organizers. “It’s a total community celebration.”
A parade will begin at noon at the “rock pile” in South Newfane. The aptly-named pile of rubble is one of the most visible reminders of Irene’s destruction. The spot is also ground zero to where some of the largest amount of damage along the Rock River occurred. The parade will follow the main road to the Williamsville Community Center. At the center, there will be a barbecue provided by the Top of the Hill Grill, with proceeds going to the fire department as well.
The Rock River Revival Project started out as way to bring some green space back to the side of the Dover Road. Passersby may have noticed the sign along the new guardrail along the Dover Road in South Newfane. Ross and her partner Chris Triebert came up with the name and the plan. They held a work bee in the spring, and friends and neighbors brought dirt, compost, clippings, and anything else organic that would help bring back greenspace to the rebuilt river bank.
“The guardrail project was started to try to get some things growing up along there,” said Ross.
When recalling the storm and the hours and days immediately after Irene, Ross said the efforts of the community’s firefighters and other volunteers saved many during the storm, and gave hope afterward. Firefighters went door-to-door during the flood, risking themselves to make sure residents got out in time.
“The fire department saved a lot of lives,” said Newfane Selectboard chair John Mack. “The parade will be a real outpouring of support to those affected.”
After the flood, when residents realized the scope of the devastation, the Williamsville Hall became the center of the community for information and a place for residents to gather. A community supper was held nightly there. Neighbors got together to help others in need: a “bike brigade” was formed to use bicycles to get around, deliver supplies, and check in on people who were stranded.
“The people here were great,” said Triebert.
“It’s amazing just how much community effort we have seen,” said Mack. “The community has held together, worked together, and will continue to work together. The selectboard supports the revival’s efforts and the parade as a way of giving recognition to those who helped us get through this.”
Ross kept a list of names of everyone who helped out during the flood recovery efforts. While not complete, she managed to record 85 names. She said that many people said “I have survivor’s guilt, what can I do to help out?”
One South Newfane resident who played a big role in getting the message out was videographer Luke Stafford. He posted a series of YouTube videos that showed the devastation of Irene’s flooding.
“Even though we’re a year removed from the floods, the healing process is continuing,” Stafford said. “It was a traumatic experience for us as a community, but we’re choosing to celebrate the community spirit, rather than mourn the losses. I met more of my neighbors in the week after Irene than I did in the entire five years I’ve lived in the valley, and I want that closeness to continue.”
On Sunday, August 26, the community will get a chance to celebrate those efforts got the past year, and recall the day that changed the lives of so many.
For anyone interested in participating in the parade, organizers are asking for donations to the fire department.
Businesses are asked to pay a suggested fee of $25. Individuals should offer whatever they feel they can afford.
Preregistration for the parade can be done by calling Triebert at (802) 348-7440 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.