The South Downey Street Bridge extends across a tributary of the West Branch of the Wapsinonoc Creek. When Herbert Hoover was a boy, it was just a small stream of water trickling through marshy wetlands, which is why the neighborhood kids took their willow fishing poles about a quarter mile east to catch sunfish and catfish in the main creek.
In March 1875, the citizens of West Branch petitioned Cedar County to build "a bridge on Downey Street, near Jesse Hoover's blacksmith shop" so wagons could get across. Twice constructed out of wood, it was finally rebuilt in 1917 as a steel beam and concrete span.
Over time, farmers plowed the rain-absorbing prairie into cultivated fields, and as urban pavement increased rainfall runoff, the creek suffered from too little water in dry seasons and too much water in wet seasons. In 1993, floodwaters nearly reached the foundation of the nearby Friends Meetinghouse where Bertie and his family once worshipped.
Take a look at the stream below, and notice how narrow the waterway is. Studies by the National Park Service, in their efforts to create a stream management plan, have revealed that floods have cut a channel in the streambed. That means when floodwaters come, soil is carved from the stream banks. This erosion is threatening the park's historic structures, artifacts, and documents. The National Park Service is looking for ways to control the force of the stream and reduce this erosion. These efforts will help prevent the loss of vegetation that supports native wildlife and anchors this protective green space.
As Commerce Secretary for President Warren Harding and later as President, Herbert Hoover supported several environmental conservation measures, especially in regard to water resources development and fisheries management. Perhaps these viewpoints got their start in a young boy's memories of sun-dappled streams and the joy of exploring with his childhood friends the waters of Wapsinonoc Creek.
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