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Down to the River

Last week, in my class, "The Power of Water," we took a day to visit many of Decorah's water-related hotspots. The experience was eye-opening and introduced me to the bodies of water that make Decorah such a beautiful place.

Our first stop was Dunning Springs. Dunning Springs is a gorgeous 200-foot waterfall that lies within walking distance of campus. The water originates from an underground spring, found in the cave at the top of the falls. Because the water starts in a spring, it continually moves, and thus never freezes, despite the frigid January temperatures. I had visited Dunning springs in the summer before school, and although the lush, greenery of the summer had faded to a dense covering of white winter snow, it was equally as awe-inspiring.

Our next destination was the Upper Iowa River, which runs through Decorah. The Upper Iowa River and is both a boon and a curse to the town. The river is great for its recreational value, granting locals opportunities to canoe or float. It also has become home to a large population of bald eagles, which have garnished so much attention, that they are now known worldwide as the "Decorah Eagles." However, with all of these perks comes the downside of constant flooding. In the last decade, Decorah has experienced three "one hundred year" floods, in 2008, 2013, and 2016.

In fact, Luther College was very crucial in protecting Decorah during one of these floods. During the flood outbreak, the first river levees to break were the college's, which resulted in the flooding of the athletic fields and the Athletics Center. Although the tides ravaged these areas, it diverted a significant amount of floodage away from the town. Many have estimated that if not for the Luther campus absorbing so much water, a large part of Decorah would have gone under!

One personal revelation that I experienced on this trip pertained to the tall, earth mounds running parallel to the river. Upon first arriving in Decorah in the fall, I thought these embankments were running paths, due to their beautiful, grassy flat tops. After our visit, however, I discovered that these massive gnolls are water levees: human-made structures that attempt to keep flood water back.

Overall, this field trip was well worth it. It is easy to lose sight of the natural beauty that surrounds you when you are cooped up on campus for most of your time. Needless to say, the breath of fresh air was appreciated and long overdue. I recommend visiting Decorah's signature water destinations. Hopefully, you will enjoy them half as much as I did!

Jack Desmul

Jack Desmul

Jack is a first-year at Luther studying management. He hails from Kalispell, Montana, where his family runs an apple orchard and cidery. When he isn't studying for his management classes, he can be found playing basketball in Regents, or playing piano in Jensen. He also sings in Norsemen!

Read more about Jack.

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Dunning Springs in the spring.
A shot of Luther Campus from the air in the wake of the 2008 flood. The athletic complex is seen submerged in the distance.
Decorah's water Levees barely hold during a 2008 flood.

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