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DAVIS: The Value of a Lake

June 20, 2011

"The potential recreational value of a large lake, which would be created by the proposed Saline River dam, is evident in last year's attendance at similar lakes which have become major recreational attractions. Lake Ouachita, formed by the Blakely Mountain dam near Hot Springs, had 1,743,000 visitors, and Bull Shoals reservoir, extending from Northern Arkansas into Southern Missouri, had 1,663,000. The lake impounded by the proposed Saline dam would not be as large as these two, and the number of visitors it would attract annually is a matter of speculation. It would become popular, beyond doubt. The lake would draw from Little Rock and other cities. I would draw from the thousands of tourists who travel Highways 67 and 70 in increasing thousands."

Before you start scratching your heads and wondering “When did they decide to build a dam on the Saline River? I haven't heard anything about it. I better call Judge Fite and see what's going on!”, let me say that the paragraph above was taken verbatim from the May 16, 1957 edition of the Benton Courier. Those of you who have lived in the county for any appreciable amount of time know how many times the idea of a local lake in our county has come up. Again. Again. And again.

I found this story while looking through a binder of all the Benton Courier papers published in 1957. There are some very interesting articles and pictures so prepare yourself to see more. However, today we shall consider the particular issue of the lake and the ramifications of it...or in this case not of it.

In almost every edition of the paper in 1957 (back then the paper was published weekly) there was a story about the economic benefit the county would derive from the proposed lake. There is mention of the lake in nearly every issue that particular year. The financial benefit to the county was estimated to be approximately $3,7000,00.00 annually. Think about that for a second or two. Think about how much money that would be in 2011 dollars as opposed to 1957 dollars. I don't know about you but it staggers the mind.

But as we all know, those financial gains never materialized because, despite the best efforts of well intentioned people, enough enthusiasm to vote for a proposal was not mustered to overcome the inevitable opposition to it. Sound familiar? It sure does to me.

According to what I read, the dam would provide a water source of over 3 billion gallons of water for the area. That's a great thought but a nearby reliable water source has never been a concern, or has it? I don't know how many more proposals for a dam on the river have been put forth since or before 1957 but they all have one thing in common. They never came to fruition, for whatever reason.

Another piece of information that caught my eye was the mention of a special census of Benton that particular year. The article stated that the population of Benton was “now at 10,148” with “5,018 males and 5,130 females.” Some rough math with a bit of “guesstimation” thrown in would indicate the town has grown by about 20,000 people over the 54 years since 1957. That comes to roughly just over 370 citizens per year. Interesting numbers. I wonder what that growth might have been if the lake initiative had been passed at any point in the past?

I'm sure if we all tried we could find more examples of such opportunities missed. The Bass Pro Shop comes to mind.

The city cannot continue to snatch defeat from the mouth of victory.

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