Clinton to speak at 50th anniversary of Greers Ferry Dam dedication

Carol Rolf Originally Published September 29, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 27, 2013 at 11:56 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Joe Harper, chief park ranger of the Greers Ferry Project Office, stands on the lookout where John F. Kennedy gave his dedication speech 50 years ago. The 50th-anniversary commemoration of the dedication will take place at the same location.

It’s been 50 years since a president has visited Greers Ferry Dam. The late President John F. Kennedy did so on Oct. 3, 1963, when he dedicated the dam. Former President Bill Clinton will do so on Thursday when he speaks at the 50th anniversary of the dam’s dedication.

Clinton will speak from the same podium as Kennedy did. That podium has remained in the custody of William “Carl” Garner, chief engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the time, who is now retired.

The dedication ceremony was one of Kennedy’s final public appearances before he was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas.

Additional speakers on Thursday will include Gov. Mike Beebe and Brig. Gen. Thomas Kula, commander of the Southwestern Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Arkansas National Guard’s 106th Army Band will provide music, just as it did 50 years ago, and the original American flag that flew over the area when Kennedy spoke will fly once again on Thursday.

The anniversary celebration will be held at 11:30 a.m. at the John F. Kennedy Overlook. The ceremony is free and open to the public. Park gates will open at 9:30. More than 25 educational exhibits will be set up at the site, many of which showcase the history of Greers Ferry Dam and Lake.

Joe Harper, chief park ranger at the Greers Ferry Project Office, said seating will be limited.

“Bring your lawn chairs,” he said.

Additional parking will be available at the Dam Site Park Day Use Area with shuttle service provided to the ceremony site beginning at 9:30. Southwestern Energy will provide free bottled water.

“We’ve been planning this celebration for 14 months,” Harper said. “At the 25th-anniversary celebration, we focused on the industrial aspects of the dam. At this celebration, we want to talk about education, about the purpose of the dam, about why we are here.

“When I go talk to school kids, they don’t know much about the dam. We have lost that connection. It’s time to bring it back. We’ve invited school kids to the ceremony. We’re expecting 1,700 kids.”

Harper said Greers Ferry Dam was built to control flooding of the Little Red River, to generate power and to provide a water supply for surrounding communities.

“Recreation has become a huge byproduct of the dam,” he added.

“The dam accounts for more than $1 million in flood-damage reductions each year, provides drinking water to more than 135,000 households and generates electricity to local cooperatives in four states with a revenue of more than $7.3 million annually,” Harper said.

He said Greers Ferry Lake is “consistently one of the Corps’ top-three visited lakes in the nation for recreation, with more than 7 million visitors annually.”

“Those 7 million visitors bring in $248 million in tourism revenue to the area, which includes Cleburne, Van Buren, White and Woodruff counties along the Little Red River,” he said.

In addition to the Corps, sponsors of Thursday’s celebration include the Arkansas National Guard, the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, the Clinton Chamber of Commerce, the Greers Ferry Area Chamber of Commerce, the Fairfield Bay Chamber of Commerce, the Greers Ferry Lake and Little Red River Association, Save Greers Ferry Lake Inc., Arkansas State University-Heber Springs, the Boy Scouts of America, the Arkansas State Police and the Cleburne County Sheriff’s Office.

Among the historical

exhibits will be an 8-cubic-yard concrete bucket that was used to haul cement across the dam site during construction of the dam and a mock-up cable system that shows how concrete and equipment were hauled from one side of the structure to the other. Harper said two concrete plants were set up near the dam site to mix the concrete.

Old photos will be on display, and parts of Kennedy’s speech will be played before the official ceremony begins. Harper said he hopes to have sailboats on the lake, a feature reminiscent of the dedication day in 1963. Kennedy was a sailor, and Garner had arranged for sailboats to be on the lake as a tribute to Kennedy’s love of sailing.

Everyone in attendance will be greeted by a Boy Scout and receive a program and a wooden nickel that features a special seal created for the dam dedications’s 50th anniversary. The U.S. Postal Service will release a commemorative stamp for the anniversary, just as it did for the 25th anniversary.