Greers Ferry Dam visitors share experiences while waiting for bus

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Originally Published October 10, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated October 9, 2013 at 9:49 a.m.
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HEBER SPRINGS — Arriving at the Greers Ferry Dam Site Park Day Use Area at 9:20 a.m. Oct. 3, visitors found a line of people that numbered more than 100 waiting for a shuttle bus to the John F. Kennedy Overlook. That number would ebb and flow in the next two hours, reaching approximately 250 at the most.

Information disseminated to the public said the gates would open at 9:30 and encouraged people to park in this area and catch the shuttle. That sounded easy enough.

However, the shuttles were few and far between, with it being well after 9:30 before one ever arrived at the parking lot. The shuttles could only accommodate 15 to 16 people at a time. In the end, there were three such shuttles — all church buses. Once that first shuttle came and went, it would be 30 to 45 minutes before another bus arrived to ferry another 15 or so people to the activities that would celebrate the 50th anniversary of the dedication of Greers Ferry Dam. The actual program was set to begin at 11:30, with former President Bill Clinton as the keynote speaker.

The shuttles continued to trickle in and out of the parking lot, with three of them arriving at the same time — 11:40, 10 minutes after the program was set to begin. It didn’t take long to cross the Greers Ferry Dam, but the folks at the back of the line, particularly the elderly and those in wheelchairs, probably didn’t have a chance of getting close enough to see Clinton. There were already nearly 5,000 people at the overlook park by the time the last of the three buses delivered their visitors.

Bob Breedlove, a Workamper volunteer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, stood at the front of the line and tried to allay people’s concerns and frustrations.

“I’m sorry, so sorry,” he could be heard saying time and again.

Breedlove said the problem with the shuttle buses was compounded by the fact that Arkansas 25 crossing the dam had been closed. People who elected not to park in the day-use park area were trying to cross the dam, and they were instructed to turn around. This caused a bottleneck on the highway. People could not even walk across the dam.

Visitors’ spirits were high at 9:30, but by 11, moods had changed.

Craig and Beth Reed, who live about two miles north of the dam, elected to drive across the dam and park in the designated parking lot. Their grandson, Nathan Reed, 10, and their neighbor Lindsey Sartin and her sons, Jacob, 8, and Dylon, 3, accompanied the Reeds.

“We’re here to celebrate the 50th anniversary [of the dam] on the chance to see a president, live and in person,” Craig Reed said, smiling. As the time wore on, he added, with frustration, “This is worse than a Razorbacks game, and it’s 25 percent less people.”

Lindsey Sartin agreed: “I’m pretty frustrated.”

Beth Reed added a moment of humor: “It’s 11:40, and Nathan said he wants to go back to school. Now we know how to get him to want to go to school — take him out in a parking lot and make him wait for two hours.”

The Reeds were seen again at about 12:45 p.m., once again standing in line, waiting on the shuttle.

“Was it worth it?” Craig was asked. Hesitating for a few minutes, he answered, wearily, “Yeah. I guess it was.”

Chris Hanna and his wife, Bobbie, had driven from Cabot to witness the event.

“We got here at 9:30, and here we are at 11,” Chris said. “You would think that with 14 months of preparation, they would have been better prepared.”

Bobbie said, “I just hope we don’t miss it. They should have had bigger buses.”

Cecil and Judy Daves of Greenbrier and their daughter, Sharon Daves, who now works with the U.S. government in India, were also waiting in line. The Daveses lived in Heber Springs for 18 years.

“I don’t know if I’ll be on furlough or not,” Sharon said, laughing as she referenced the U.S. government shutdown that began Oct. 1.

“I taught school and was principal and transportation director at Heber Springs High School,” Cecil said.

“We could have had all these people over there in 15 or 20 minutes,” he said, referring to his service as director of transportation. “Someone didn’t plan this very well.

“If Carl Garner (retired resident engineer at Greers Ferry Lake) had planned this, this [long wait for a shuttle] wouldn’t have happened.”

Cecil said his parents (Roger and Una Daves of Heber Springs) and his aunt and uncle (Calvin and Wilma Penrod of California) attended the dedication of the dam 50 years ago, when the late President John F. Kennedy gave the keynote address.

“I was away at school, so I couldn’t attend,” he said. “They told me about coming.”

As one of the last shuttle buses crossed the dam, carrying folks who had been in line since 9:30, one other visitor shared her thoughts.

Sandra Montgomery of Rogers had brought her mother, Judy Thompson, who was in a wheelchair, to the celebration.

“We came down and stayed the night,” Sandra said. “Mother is a big Clinton fan.

“I’m just glad to be on this bus,” Sandra said.

“We’ve been pretty excited about coming here. We loved Kennedy. I’m from a military family. I remember we were getting ready to go to Germany in 1963, and we had to go get our shots. I was 9.

“I went in and got my shot and came back out. Everybody was crying. I thought they were boohooing about having to get their shots. ‘It’s not that bad,’ I said, only to learn a few minutes later that Kennedy had been shot.”

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