Greers Ferry Dam Marks 50th Anniversary

by Chuck Bartels, The Associated Press  on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013 4:25 pm  

HEBER SPRINGS - Former President Bill Clinton used the 50th anniversary of the dedication of an Arkansas dam on Thursday to call for a spirit of cooperation in Congress as the partial federal government shutdown stretched into a third day.

Clinton stood at the same lectern former President John F. Kennedy had used fifty years earlier when Kennedy spoke at the dedication of the Greers Ferry Dam in north Arkansas. In that speech, Kennedy praised congressional leaders from Arkansas for their work. He also spoke of former President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs, which he said once faced great opposition, and of the importance of continuing similar work.

In that spirit, Clinton said current political leaders have an obligation to end the shutdown and "get the show on the road."

"This country has had a lot of tough political fights," Clinton told about 5,000 people who gathered to mark the anniversary. "This is normal. This is what always shaped America," Clinton said.

The last two federal government shutdowns occurred in 1995 and 1995, when Clinton was in office.

Clinton said he had his famous handshake as a teenager with Kennedy in the Rose Garden about nine weeks before Kennedy visited Arkansas.

In between was the March on Washington, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave what Clinton called the greatest American political speech.

Clinton, citing King, spoke of how there is "dignity (in) undeserved suffering," and how King urged African-Americans to work with whites. Clinton lamented that the level of dialogue among leaders has changed since then.

Clinton pointed out that then-Gov. Orval Faubus, a strident segregationist, found common ground with Kennedy in that they both supported preservation of natural areas.

Kennedy's appearance at the dam was one of his last before his assassination the following month. Clinton called Kennedy "the symbol of the eternal future."

The dam on the Little Red River north of Little Rock served as a backdrop for Clinton and other speakers. Gov. Mike Beebe said there was some initial doubt whether the ceremony could take place as scheduled in light of the shutdown. The dam and surrounding park are managed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

Congress authorized the $46 million project, $350 million in today's dollars, in in 1954. Construction began in 1957, and Greers Ferry Lake was created in 1962. The lake remains a popular recreation area.

The facility started generating electricity in 1964.

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