On the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Greers Ferry Dam in Heber Springs, former President Bill Clinton addressed a large crowd who came to the rededication ceremony.

The October 1963 event was one of the last public appearances that then-President John F. Kennedy made before he was assassinated a month later in Dallas. You can read reflections of JFK’s visit to Arkansas in this powerful article from Talk Business contributor Larry Brannan.

“Because his life was claimed too soon, in death he became for the rest of us, a symbol of the eternal future. He became the symbol for always what to become and America would always be a country on the move,” Clinton said at Thursday’s ceremony.

Built for flood control on the Little Red River, the $46.7 million dam took six years to build and encompasses 31,500 acres and roughly 285 miles of shoreline. It has led to millions of dollars in tourism for the Heber Springs region, which benefits from fishing, skiing, camping and other lake-related activities.

Arkansas’ powerful Congressional delegation during the middle of last century – which included U.S. Senators John McClellan and J. William Fulbright and Cong. Wilbur Mills – helped steer the project to fruition.

Fifty years ago at the dam ceremony, Kennedy said, “It said in the New York Times this morning that if Congressman Mills suggested it, that the president would be glad to come down here and dedicate this dam and sing ‘Down By the Old Mill Stream,’ or any other request that was made—and I would be delighted!”

“This dam represents not merely the time of construction, it represents almost 30 years of effort. It was first authorized in part way back during the New Deal and then it was talked about afterwards and then finally the money was appropriated in the mid-fifties. And now the dam is built in 1963 and next spring will begin to get power. And the full impact of it will be felt by the sense of recreation and industry in 5, 10, 15, or 20 years.”

“And those people who say it is pork barrel — which is more wasteful: the waste of life and property and hope or a multi-purpose project which can be used by all our people? Which is more wasteful: to fail to tap the energies of that river, to let that water flood, to deny this chance for the development of recreation and power, or to use it wisely? Which is more wasteful: to let the land wash away, to let it lie arid, or to use it and use it wisely and to make those investments which will make this a richer state and country in the years to come?”

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