BREAKING NEWS: Rendezvous canceled for 2019

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Many St. Feriole Island streets have been under water since March 18. The Prairie Villa Rendezvous is looking to either cancel or possibly relocate, though options are slim. The annual flea market that runs in conjunction with the Rendezvous, will happen if the river goes down and the land dries out. If not, the flea market will be canceled as its organizers are not interested in moving it.

Editor’s note: This is the first story in a series about Prairie du Chien’s St. Feriole Island experiencing sustained flooding for more than two months, and how that has affected the community.

By Correne Martin

The Big River Long Rifles’ Prairie Villa Rendezvous is the first major event in Prairie du Chien at the mercy of the swelling Mississippi River this tourist season. As of Monday afternoon, the organization officially decided to cancel its 2019 festivities.

A prolonged flood has kept most St. Feriole Island streets under water since March. The island is closed and remains moderately flooded, with the river at McGregor cresting around 19.1 feet today. 

The non-profit Big River Long Rifles was told by the city that St. Feriole Island is not a feasible option for the 2019 Rendezvous, June 13-16. According to Julie Rosauer, the organization’s treasurer, they’re realizing the grounds, where the Fur Trade-era encampment reenactment has been held for the past 43 years, would be soggy at best. 

“Even if the water went down, by the time [the city] gets the island cleaned off, mowed and ready, we might get in but we won’t get back out,” Rosauer said. She noted, Parks and Rec Director Mike Ulrich said, as of May 30, the island looks to be closed through June 15 and, from there, opening it would be decided day-by-day.

Postponing the date of the 44th annual event hasn’t been a consideration, she said, as the land is utilized for events nearly every weekend throughout the summer. 

That has left the monumental, last-minute task of either relocating or canceling the Rendezvous up to the group. A bounty of spacious properties have been examined, yet an alternate home seemed but a far out possibility as of press time Monday morning. 

Though the Long Rifles were offered donated use of fairgrounds in Grant County and farm property in Clayton County (Iowa), among other lands, they’re dedicated to keeping it in the Prairie du Chien community. 

“I would especially feel bad if we have all these people coming to hotels here, and then we ask them to drive another 30 minutes out of town to the Rendezvous,” Rosauer stated.

On May 30, the organization toured the former Country on the River grounds in Bridgeport, an option that was eliminated because hay growing there would leave little functional space for 300 camps, activities like the black powder shoot and hawk throw, demonstrations and traders’ row. They also visited and analyzed the area surrounding Prairie Fun Land off Prairie’s La Pointe Street. It had minimal drawbacks but, as of Sunday night, Rosauer said Fun Land’s insurance was going to jump several thousand dollars for the week of the Rendezvous. They had one last piece of local acreage to check into Monday, but when that fell through, the club majority voted to completely cancel the 2019 event.

What about the flea market?

The flea market that runs simultaneously with the Rendezvous—for which management transferred from the Jaycees to the Prairie fire association last year—is up in the air, due to the saturation of St. Feriole Island. 

According to Jaaren Riebe, fire association representative, they are still holding out hope that Mother Nature will provide the best case weather needed for the river to go down and the terrain to dry up in time for vendors and shoppers to arrive. 

The association’s stance Friday, May 31, was that they will hold the flea market if conditions permit, otherwise, they will cancel it. They are not interested in relocating, he said.

A decision about the flea market is planned no later than Friday, June 7.

Working around Mother Nature

The Mississippi went into flood stage at McGregor on March 18, according to Logan Lee, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in La Crosse. The past 77 days have taken their toll on the city’s beloved sanctuary.

“We’re at nature’s beck and call,” said Rendezvouser Matthew Johnson, while touring potential sites last week. 

But, the reality is that buckskinners would begin arriving in Prairie du Chien on Sunday if the Rendezvous wasn't canceled. Whether it’s significantly greater cost, crops already in place or another barrier, many factors left very few choices for the Long Rifles.

Rosauer said the Long Rifles are grateful for all who have stepped forward in any way to assist with this unsavory battle to preserve the Rendezvous. The organization has tried hard to do everything it could to create a setting as traditionally primitive as usual somewhere else, but the right elements didn't come together. Rosauer hopes the public will understand and appreciate their diligence. 

“I hope people know we’ve done all we can,” she said. “Campers who have already paid their Rendezvous fees can transfer their money to next year or get a refund. I’ll be making a lot more phone calls this week.”

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