The mosquitoes are bad, the odor can be worse, and the dead skunks can be the worst — but for Carl and Adele Heyden, the biggest problem can be the opossums.
When Carl would clean out the stormwater runoff ditch on the side of his yard, the opossums would sometimes give him a good startle.
“You’ve got to be careful if you get near them,” he said. “They play dead.”
But Heyden says that, as of this summer, he is done messing with marsupials and dredging his ditch.
“I’ve stopped going in there to clean it up,” Heyden said, standing next to the long trail of stagnant, algae-filled, bug-breeding water. “Regardless of what the repercussions are, I cannot do it anymore.”
Most of Heyden’s body is 79 years old; a few replaced joints are younger. Adele is 78, and since they moved to Apple Hill Lane in 1972, with a backyard that opens up to Stevenson High School’s baseball field, they have helped maintain the stormwater ditch that came with their property, they said.
About a decade ago, the neighbors on the north side of that channel moved away, and the Heydens have complained for years that the newcomers refuse to get into the mud and help clean out the algae.
That family, Mark and Lee Johnson, could not be reached for comment, despite several visits to their home.
The Johnsons’ yard is well-manicured, all the way up to the edge of the trough. Heyden said the lawn-tractor tire marks in the ditch’s mud are from Mark Johnson’s mower as he clips to the edge of the water.
Heyden wants help from somebody — maybe the Johnsons, maybe Vernon Township, maybe Lake County — with the ugly work. He says he is done with raking the gunk out of the standing water, filling five-gallon buckets with said gunk and having Adele push them away in a wheel-barrow.
The channel begins where his and Johnson’s property lines meet Apple Hill Lane, where underground drains from the street’s north and south ends empty into the open-air, all-dirt ditch. The trough stretches the length of their 1-acre plots and onto SHS’s land.
Heyden said Stevenson and, in particular, grounds manager Jeff Green, have always been easy to work with and concerned about their end of the ditch. At SHS, it winds under the baseball fields on its way to Indian Creek.
The problem, though, is that years of erosion on both banks causes the last of a storm’s runoff to sit in the channel between the Johnson and Heyden yards, turning green and inviting bugs and critters.
“He’s the one who kept cleaning it,” Adele said of her husband.
The Heydens are comically divided about what should be done with the ditch.
One of them will make a suggestion — maybe the county should pay to encase the entire thing in a culvert or maybe each of Apple Hill Lane’s homeowners should contribute to a fund of some kind, since the channel drains all their yards — and the other will squabble about that ridiculous idea.
They bought the land in January 1972 and said a blanket of snow kept them from noticing the storm drain until after they closed the sale. The property pin next to the underground drains’ exit suggest the Heydens owns about one-third of the channel, with the Johnsons having about two-thirds.
In 1976, Heyden put up a fence , and he has a letter from Lake County instructing him not to put his fence on the public drainage easement. He has documents from 2009 in which the county declares the channel a homeowners’ issue.
The mud is filled with boot-prints; Heyden said those are from the Lake County workers who spray the water with mosquito-killers. It helps, he said, but is not the regrading and artificial liner he would like to see.
But the weeds still grow among the muck, and thirsty critters still drink the nasty water and die there. Heyden said he is finished with hauling all that gunk out to ease the odor for a little while.
He wants to be able to sit in his backyard, drink some coffee and smoke some Marlboros in comfort — but someone else is going to have to make it happen now.
“If you’re nice to people, people do nice things for you,” Heyden said.