Take a walk through Braeburn Park just upstream from Canyon Lake and you’ll stumble upon concrete foundations and even a few partial stairways lining the normally-placid waters of Rapid Creek. The crumbling remains, mostly overgrown by lush vegetation, are the only evidence that a neighborhood once stood here, a bucolic setting nestled in a canyon on the far west side of town. Its landscape of tall, leafy trees and a gently burbling creek made it feel miles removed from civilization. For residents of this neighborhood, their little slice of heaven turned hellish on the night of June 9, 1972, when a flash flood tore through town. 238 Black Hills residents lost their lives that evening and Rapid City was forever transformed—both physically and emotionally.
The remnants of these foundations are among the few visible reminders of a flood so devastating, it ranks as the third-deadliest in U.S. history. It was also one of the costliest, causing $165 million in damage. The flood forever changed the look of the city; Memorial Park, a greenbelt that cuts through the heart of town, now occupies what was once another thriving neighborhood. Like Braeburn Park, people lived here—and people died here. The park was conceived as a tribute to those who perished that night; the promenade features historical plaques discussing the flood at key points, a memorial pond and fountain, and a commemorative monument adjacent to Rushmore Plaza Civic Center with a list of flood victims, their names etched in bronze. It’s a somber reminder of a night forever ingrained in the memories of long-time Rapid City residents…one that city leaders hope is never forgotten.
In honor of the flood victims, Friends of Rapid City Parks holds an annual Memory Walk on the anniversary of the flood. Representatives from the Rapid City Fire Department, Pennington County Emergency Management, and other organizations typically share stories about the flood and the role emergency responders played. It’s a somber occasion meant to pay homage to the victims of the most destructive flash flood in U.S. history.
Follow the link for information on this year’s event.
WORDS: MARK PETRUSKA