Hubble Creek usually meanders through City Park in a peaceful way, adding beauty and serenity to the park. On July 4, hundreds of yellow rubber ducks have floated on the surface of the creek in a race to the low water bridge. Sometimes the water is so low for the annual duck race that the fire department helps push the ducks along with an open fire hose.
But when heavy rains fall, Hubble Creek can rise up into a muddy monster that becomes swift and dangerous.
Last October, Jackson Police Officers Danny Brosnan and Kimberly Schuck received Meritorious Service Awards for saving the life of a driver whose truck was swept off the low-water bridge at Mary Street by a raging, flooded Hubble Creek. The truck was carried downstream with the driver still inside.
About 5:30 this past Sunday evening, Hubble Creek was deceptively dangerous as it rose to flood level — a few inches higher than the low-water bridge in the middle of the park.
Signs on each side of the bridge warn drivers that the bridge is impassable during high water. However, the ankle-deep water passing over the bridge seemed to be safe enough for children to splash around and have a little fun.
Jackson resident Casey Stuart was watching her 5-year-old daughter, Kinsley, play in the water on the bridge, when in a wink of an eye, she disappeared. She had fallen or stepped off the upstream side of the concrete bridge.
The raging creek water forced her little body against the concrete and then began pushing her into one of the three 12-inch culverts that allow water to pass under the bridge.
An 11-year-old boy, Aiden Kyle, saw Kinsley disappear under the water and rushed to her rescue, grabbing hold of her arm. As he prevented the current from carrying Kinsley under the bridge, he ended up going into the water himself. Some 15-year-old boys then grabbed him.
Isaiah Randol, Alex Niedbalski, Eli Kyle, and Aiden all struggled to pull Kinsley to safety. She had been under the water about 15 seconds before being rescued.
When this incident was reported to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen on the evening after it happened (Monday, May 18), City Administrator Jim Roach told the Board, “Staff will review the structure and see what we can do to enhance safety.”
On Thursday, Kent Peetz, Public Works director, said the city had been “in discussion all week.”
There are dozens of these types of low-water bridges in the county, and there are two within city limits — this bridge and the one at Mary Street.
The single-lane low-water bridge in the middle of City Park has been there a long time, Peetz said. While it’s possible there have been similar close calls in the past, there is no record of any, he added.
One might think installing a grate over the culverts would make the bridge safer. Peetz disagrees.
“A grate would not make it safe,” he stated. Grates can be installed over culverts where there are ditches that might become filled with water, but Hubble Creek is a creek that flows continually.
Putting a grate over the culverts on this bridge creates a secondary danger, Peetz warned. If grates covered the culverts, someone falling into the creek on the upstream side would be pinned against the gates by the force of the current and could drown.
It has been decided that additional signage is needed to warn of the danger when water flows over the bridge. The exact wording has not yet been selected.
“The mother was unaware of the kind of danger there,” Peetz said. The City wants to make people aware. “It’s not a splash pad. There are no lifeguards there,” Peetz said.
Adding side rails to the bridge would impede the flow of the water, especially if branches and other debris would get trapped as they flowed downstream.
Low-water bridges are designed to not obstruct the flow of their creeks. When creeks are low, the water passes through the culverts and drivers can cross over the creek on the bridge. When the water gets high, the creek continues to move unimpeded over the bridge but drivers are not supposed to cross until the water goes down.
Hubble Creek can become dangerous even when the sun is shining in the park. “It can rain in Fruitland and not in Jackson, and the creek can come up,” Peetz said.
The City could replace the low-water bridge in City Park with a high-water bridge like the Deerwood Drive bridge over Hubble Creek, but that bridge cost almost a half million dollars, and that type of bridge may not be appropriate for the middle of the park, Peetz said.