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Stopping the Red River Dam: It's Been Almost a Half Century

This is the Red River, where nearly a half-century ago a flood-control project sparked controversy. (U.S. Forest Service)
This is the Red River, where nearly a half-century ago a flood-control project sparked controversy. (U.S. Forest Service)
November 18, 2016

STANTON, Ky. – A pivotal moment in stopping a controversial plan to dam the Red River, part of which is now Kentucky's only National Wild and Scenic River, happened 49 years ago today.

Nearly a half-century later, it's still vividly remembered by many as a watershed moment in the lengthy, contentious fight to conserve the Red River. Sierra Club lawyer Oscar Geralds is 87, but Nov. 18, 1967 remains fresh in his mind.

"Oh yeah, oh yeah, it was quite a day," he said.

That day, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas hiked deep into the Red River Gorge in the Daniel Boone National Forest to see for himself what damage could be done if the federal government went ahead with a flood-control project to dam the river and create a reservoir.

Geralds, a longtime Sierra Club lawyer, was leading 15 Boy Scouts on a hike when they met Douglas on the trail.

"Well, I think that gave us the publicity we needed for people to notice it," Geralds said. "People learned about it and then became concerned about it."

The project, initially authorized by Congress in 1962, was stopped eventually, and in 1993 that part of the Red that runs through the gorge was designated a National Wild and Scenic River, the only one in Kentucky.

Powell County resident Joe Bowen also was there that pivotal day 49 years ago, in support of the Army Corps of Engineers' plan to build a dam and create a lake. Time has changed his mind.

"I'm glad it didn't happen, absolutely," Bowen said. "Mother Nature does a better job than us humans do."

Bowen now lives in a valley just a thousand feet from the river, where he runs a bed and breakfast, just a few miles from the cliffs and arches of the Red River Gorge.

"It is a spectacular place," he added. "I've seen this country and I really do believe that this is as pretty as it gets. And there's are a lot of beautiful places out there."

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY