Arlington Heights not above it all; sloughs, water problems abound

One summer in the early '50s we took our young kids to dip their toes in Devil's Lake, Wisconsin. It was a nice camping trip, but we could have stayed home and found a satisfying place to wade at our own curb.

It had rained most of the time we were away and Oakton Street was a tempting pond, offering water sports at our doorstep.

Also our crawl space was chug-a-lug with water. And there was a new watering hole in the middle of the block.

This was our introduction to the water problem in Arlington Heights.

The second chapter in the water saga came a couple of months later when I was driving a carful of neighbors to a vote on building additional sewers for the areas that had flooded during the record summer storm.

I'm driving and they are talking. To a woman they are going to vote against additional sewers. "Taxes are already too high." I should have let them out to find their own way to the voting booth, but I drove on. I think that referendum passed anyway.

Arlington Heights has made heroic strides to control flooding, but the fact is that we are a community built in a swamp, just as Chicago is. Listen to old-timers and you hear stories of a bridge on Dunton Avenue and another on Northwest Highway east of downtown from which boys used to fish. Those bridges are just a memory now. We had another neighbor when we lived on Oakton who harbored a pond in his front yard every time it rained, not only on occasions of record.

Neighbor Catherine Coy told me how Recreation Park used to flood after a big storm. There is a house north on Dunton where a "secret creek" would pour through the family room during robust downfalls.

Only this month, 60 years after I waded out on Oakton to retrieve my youngster's toy sailboat, residents were at village hall complaining about water in their basements.

Daisy Daniels in her wonderful "Prairieville, U.S.A." tackles the water problem to some extent. She describes the range of sloughs in our area and points out that they are a part of our heritage. They've been here since the glaciers retreated.

And what do we do about them? Well, as far back as when the locals were Indians we've worked around them. Daniels gives the example of Arlington Heights Road. Long ago it was an Indian trail. And the Indians had to contend with the sloughs that got in the way. What did they do? They went around them. To this day Arlington Heights Road is not straight because the Indians gave way to the sloughs.

We've managed to live with that. Thousands of cars use Arlington Heights Road every day and swerve for sloughs.

Our houses don't have wheels and can't swerve when rain comes down in buckets. But we can be like the Potawatami and acknowledge the power of sloughs, and work around them as well as we can. We've come a long way from the stream that once ran through town.

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