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ND man works to defend pumpkin patch from floodwaters

Published on June 28, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on June 28, 2011 6:38AM


The Bismarck Tribune via Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- This spring, Dave Pearce wondered what he would do with 1,000 wet hay bales.

"They were too wet to send to the feedlot," said his sister, Tracy Finneman.

He thought they might be used for compost, but instead, they became part of the dikes surrounding the three homes and red barn at the site of Papa's Pumpkin Patch off Fernwood Drive, plus 14 other nearby homes. The area is underwater because of flooding on the Missouri River caused by an increase in water released from Garrison Dam.

Now the 65 acres that make up the pumpkin patch are underwater. In some places, rubber boots are sufficient to stay dry. In other places, waders help Pearce stay dry in chest-deep water.

The main structures at the patch are protected from rising water and Pearce is satisfied that the dikes are tall enough to handle the anticipated river level. Now, it's time for him and the rest of the family to start planning for this fall's pumpkin patch.

"A lot of people have come up to us and said it's so sad that there won't be a pumpkin patch this year," Finneman said.

That took her off guard at first. She'd ask where they heard that, and so many said that they assumed it wasn't happening because the patch was flooded. The family met recently and decided that they would go forward with the patch this year.

"Our family needs a pumpkin patch," Finneman said. "It is such a part of the fabric of our life ... It's our life. We live here."

So, they're doing some of what they normally do this time of year: plan.

"In early summer, we are planning," she said.

Her mom keeps track of what recommendations people made the previous year, and they think about what they could do and how they could make it work.

Most of what they do at the patch can be done this year. There will be a zip line ride, the hay bale castles and the slides. The only exception is the corn maze. The nearly foot-tall corn plants are now under about 3 feet of water.

"The corn maze, I was real hopeful," Pearce said. "I had done my homework and planted it. I hoped to have one that would rival the one in Mandan."

They don't yet know if they will be able to have it at the pumpkin patch because it depends on when the water goes down and how long it takes to dry out..

"If it has to, for a year, it could be in another place," Pearce said.

In the meantime, Prairie View Landscaping offered them some land to transplant their 250 giant pumpkin plants, as well as two specialty varieties of gourds and a seed from a Tennessee fair prize-winning pumpkin.

Perce is now the only person staying out at the pumpkin patch. His home, Finneman's home and their mother's home are all empty, including appliances. Pearce stays in the red barn, sleeping in a hammock. He takes a survey of the property, checking sump pumps, three times a day.

"I have a Spiffy Biff, refrigerator, electricity and microwave," he said of his new home, which he calls his man camp.

He takes a canoe around the property, with docks improvised from hay bales and pallets. He checks to make sure the dikes are holding up and that the sump pumps are still running. In his mother's house, he checks to make sure the water is below a line he drew on the wall.

In some ways, it's peaceful, he said. He hears frogs croaking and, until recently, he saw deer on the western edge of the property. He also sees a few ducks.

"They're my new friends," he joked.

"Have you named them yet?" Finneman asked.

"No," he said.

He's able to pull the canoe around the property as he gives tours to family members. Recently, his wife and mother went out to see the patch. The water covering the property is backwater from the Missouri River and Burnt Creek and does not have the strong current that is seen in the Missouri River.

Getting to the patch is a little different than normal. Sandy Bottom Road is closed and water has come across the road in two places. Also, because family members need to use a boat to get to the property, they dock their pontoon at Chuck and Pat Huber's home off Burnt Creek Loop.

That road is also closed, and people looking for some easy bow fishing set up camping chairs and trash cans along the road and use the entrance to the road off River Road as a parking lot.

Water is on both sides of the road, but not across it. Overnight, water did find its way across the Hubers' driveway. Large carp get spooked by the vehicles driving by. One dead carp serves as a marker for the middle of the driveway and helps keep drivers from getting stuck in the soft shoulders.

The pontoon is docked off the corral, which used to open onto horse pasture. Now, the Hubers' house is waterfront property.

Instead of dodging sandbars, Pearce watches out for fence posts and barbed wire, which makes a nails-on-chalk-board screeching noise on the bottom of the pontoon. Whenever he approaches a fence line, he stops the engine to make sure it doesn't get caught in the motor.

The pumpkin patch had a tremendous amount of help getting the place ready for flooding. People offered to store items, help sandbag, build the dikes and move furniture and other items out of the house. One family north of Bismarck is boarding their two horses, plus they had three dogs and four cats that needed temporary homes.

On average, they had 30 to 40 people helping them for five days starting around Memorial Day weekend. They had so many people offer to take in their belongings that they aren't sure where it all ended up, Finneman said.

"There is a saying that it is easier to give than to receive," Finneman said. "It is a real statement. It is easier. It is hard to ask for that much help and be on the receiving end."


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.


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