Caretakers of the Indian Creek and Tomahawk trails have dealt with high water before. The popular walking and biking paths bend along flood plains, after all.
But nothing like this.
The water’s meanness hit new highs last week — literally and figuratively — leaving a portion of the south Kansas City area trail system closed a week later, and a legacy of peculiar damages.
“It did weird things you don’t always see,” said Scott Shierk, Overland Park’s supervisor of park maintenance, who’s been working the trails for 27 years.
“That water — it’s amazing how much damage and how much force it has,” Shierk said.
It tore apart the heavy rock shoreline on Indian Creek under the Wornall Road bridge, strewing the trail with a boulder field. Bikers this week navigated over it by carrying their bikes over the rocks but this section is still closed.
The rest of the trail system is open thanks to quick work from parks crews, which will have weeks of work ahead to repair damages that threaten the trails’ future integrity.
The flood ripped entire 50- and 75-foot trees out by their root balls along the Blue River Trail in Kansas City and the Tomahawk Trail in Overland Park, washing away the banks up to, and in some cases including, the trails.
It stripped off the asphalt overlays on the Indian Creek Trail across much of its surfacing, including around Corporate Woods.
And in Leawood, the flood waters overwhelmed the city Parks and Recreation Department’s building near Indian Creek at 104th Street at State Line Road, disabling its fleet of machines and equipment under more than two feet of muddy water.
Some six inches of rain in a matter of hours deluged the Southland in the early morning hours July 27 — just five days after as much as four inches of rain fell across the area, along with heavy winds particularly in Johnson County.
Crews in the hardest hit cities were still at work cleaning debris from the prior storms when the historic flood trumped everything.
“It was a 100-year flood event,” said Overland Park city spokesman Sean Reilly. “There’s only a 1-percent chance that would happen in any given year.”
Crews from each of the cities went to work almost immediately after the water receded July 28 — a Friday, because they knew the trails would be a popular destination that weekend. Beautiful weather, mild temperatures, were on the way for the weekend July 29 and 30.
“It’s such an important piece of the south Kansas City metro area,” said Richard Allen, park planner for the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department. “There’ll be more than a thousand people on a weekend” using the Kansas City portion of the trail.
Overland Park’s counter at Hawthorne Valley Park tallies some 5,000 users a week.
Throughout the trails, workers and their machines dealt with stretches of mud, some 8-to-10 inches thick.
Leawood, since its machinery was flooded, borrowed tractors from the city’s public works department, said Brian Anderson, superintendent of parks and recreation.
In the 20 years he has worked the trails, “this was the worst,” he said.
Workers plowed off the mud and debris, came back through with wire-bristled brooms, and had the vast majority of the trail surfaces clear and dry by Saturday, from Kansas City to Olathe.
There’s an urgency in cleaning off silt, Anderson said. “Silt is a lot like ice,” he said. “It’s just a mess.”
Bicyclists who use the trails a lot are particularly tuned to how well they are cleared after storms, said Vance Preman of Leawood, a bicyclist with Cycling Kansas City.
“It’s incredibly dangerous,” he said. “It only takes one log, one rock, one mudslide” for someone to be “seriously injured.”
Early in the week, trail walkers taking breaks from their jobs at Corporate Woods in Overland Park were pleased to find the Indian Creek Trail mostly clean and clear.
“I thought it would be really bad,” said Debbie McFarlane, taking her first walk on the trail Tuesday. She’d been out of town and had heard the dire reports of flooding. “I expected I would have to do some maneuvering around” to complete her walk.
“They’re good about getting it clean,” said Corporate Woods worker Paul Nevins, on the trail Tuesday. He had seen it at its worst July 27 and 28. He had photos on his phone that showed the brown water blocking huge portions of the trail.
“This was all caked with mud,” he said.
While most of the trails’ miles were back to normal, the spots where trails go under bridges, particularly on the Kansas City side of the trails, will take longer to clear. The Wornall Road bridge at 103rd Street, or the railroad bridges over the Blue River east of Holmes Road are harder to deal with, Allen said.
These points are where debris and broken trees jam, intensifying the damage of the flood water.
The extra costs in repairing the flood damages are still being tallied. Much of the work is routine, carried out by city crews as part of their regular duties.
But Overland Park hired a contractor to clear the trail debris while it kept its city crews at work continuing to clean up wind damage debris from the week before.
Leawood is still in the process of assessing the damage to its equipment damaged in its flooded building.
The impact of the erosion on the trails in Kansas City and Overland Park where uprooted trees left gaping holes up against the sides of the trail are still being evaluated.
But another weekend is coming, with a forecast of pleasant temperatures again, in the 70s, meaning lots of walkers and bikers.
And this heads-up from the National Weather Service: A chance of thunderstorms Saturday night.