Vol. III, No. 4, Spring 1990

The Damnable Current River Dam and Other Topics

A Conversation with Dan Saults, 1982 Part III: About Table Rock Lake

This article continues excerpts from an extended tape-recorded interview with Dan Saults conducted in 1982 by Bob Flanders and Lynn Morrow. Dan Saults was a pioneer in Missouri conservation activities. He was with the Missouri Department of Conservation for a number of years, and worked in Washington, D. C. with beth the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service. He retired to Branson, Missouri in 1973, where he remained active in conservation causes until his death in 1985.

 In earlier issues Dan described the role of the Missouri Conservation Commission in preventing the Corps of Engineers from constructing a dam on the Current River, and the Commission's subsequent support of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Here he discusses the decision the Missouri Conservation Commission had to make about whether or not to support the building of Table Rock Lake.

The Commission almost automatically opposed it, because by then they were used to opposing dams. But here was a situation where there was [already on the White River] a Taneycomo Dam in Missouri and Bull Shoals in Arkansas. Maybe we should go ahead and not oppose this dam on White River. Let Table Rock go. The Commission and staff pretty much agreed on this and we wrote a statement to that effect. And a storm hit us.

[From our earlier successful opposition] we had built a knee jerk reaction to any dam. We had built so much anti-dam sentiment, making these things almost satanic and the Corps of Engineers a bunch of utter scoundrels, that we couldn't support anything the Corps wanted to do. That's one of the problems with good propaganda, you sometimes get caught up in your own words.

We thought we had a good position. White River was ruined as a river anyway. Beaver Dam would have been built anyway so there was no point in trying to block Table Rock. But we spent almost as much time defending ourselves permitting Table Rock (as though we had the power to ban it)--we had to persuade the governor to say it was ok to go ahead and build Table Rock!

So you do get carried away in ecological matters to the point where you get an irreconcilable position against all sin--and all dams are sin.

I've about come to the conclusion that's right too, come to think of it.

Dan was asked about opposition and support for the dam.

Some farmers opposed the dam very strongly, with good cause, and they raised hell with the Commission, which they had every right to do, for not backing them. On the whole, we reached the conclusion that most people along the Upper White favored it because they figured they would make money out of it. Those who opposed it were pretty much committed to a [certain subsistence] way of life.

In Branson, however, the powers that existed at that time, such as Jim Owen, were very strongly in favor of it. Most of the people in Branson were in favor of Table Rock Dam. [The construction of the dam] didn't mean nearly as much to them economically as they thought it would. Table Rock was built almost mechanically--high technology took place there, mostly done by machines; and about the only local people who got any jobs were the ones who came out as carpenters to build the forms in which the concrete was held.

Dan laughed about his frustration in trying to maintain his critical posture toward dams.


One of my problems is that it turned into such a beautiful lake. It's just so lovely that I'm almost glad that I finally went along with its support. Prettiest lake in the whole Corps system, I think. Interestingly, the Corps civilian in charge of the dam construction--charming man, Lincoln Sherman from Atlanta, Georgia--he knew I was interviewing him both for a report back to the Conservation Commission in closed session, and for an article I was going to do on the subject for the Missouri Conservationist magazine. He took me out and said, "1 think these are beautiful little lonely lost valleys, but look at this picture." And he had taken a picture from up on top of Table Rock, from where the dam was originally to have been built (it was moved upstream because of faulty rock formations). And he had sketched what the lake was to look like, air-brushed it in, and it was a beautiful picture. Although it was false, and artificial.

And when I said it was false and artificial, he said, "So is the impoundment, but it will still be beautiful." And of course it has worked out that way.


[Web site note: The complete interview can be viewed in an article in OzarksWatch Volume V, Issue No. 3, Winter 1992.]

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