Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Osage River: Research trip to Heritage Days in Warsaw, Missouri.

Research, for this writer, is almost the best part of a book project. For in our case that often means – road trip!  Many trips to the Ozarks tracking Father Hogan’s horseback reconnaissance for a settlement for Famine immigrants were de rigueur for Mystery of the Irish Wilderness. Last fall, The Osage River book (now in the works) dictated a photo safari to Heritage Days at Truman Dam and Reservoir.

As with most American ‘pioneer/forefathers’ celebrations, Heritage Days in Warsaw, Missouri provides a venue for demonstrations of atavistic skills and arcane crafts with, of course, opportunities to purchase many handmade or locally crafted articles. Heritage Days is no exception. Lining the shady pathways one could find lye soap making, candles, sorghum, wood carving, dying and weaving, and candle making. From the stage of Trailside Theater the sound of old-time music emanated.

The wooded hilltop surrounding the government-moderne, concrete Visitors Center was populated with buckskin- or calico-clad frontiersmen and women; the cleared lawn overlooking the mammoth dam on the Osage hosted Civil War and mountain-man reenactors. They brought displays of long rifles and cannon, tanned hides and bows, powder horns and and Bowie knives.

"Irony" is an overused concept but it was not lost on me in the firing of a Civil War cannon over the fought-over Corps of Engineers project.  Colorful subject matter and near-perfect October weather called for many snapshots

“Harry Truman” himself (Dr. Carter Kinkead of the Benton County Historical Society) strolled the grounds, chatting with visitors and giving out bits of history of the eponymous project. Originally named Kaysinger Bluff Dam and Reservoir after the high bluff over the Osage to which the dam is anchored, the name was changed in 1970 to honor Missouri’s own favorite son – and to reinforce its worthiness as a major infrastructure project.  There were questions (and a lawsuit) over its cost/benefit – both economically and environmentally. More – much more - on that in The Osage River book.

Congressionally authorized, and Corps of Engineers-built, Truman is an interesting contrast to the first major dam/lake project on the Osage River. Bagnell, a privately funded and operated dam/reservoir was slow to develop, but its shoreline is now crammed with marinas, condo developments and recurrent water-quality concerns.  Shenanigans in its 1920s funding landed one developer in Leavenworth Penitentiary (of course, his major problems had to do with Land Banks, foreclosed Kansas farmland and his effort to make Osage Valley farmland cover the shortfalls).

Truman (a.k.a. Kaysinger Bluff) on the other hand was slow to take off.  Authorized in 1954, construction didn't begin until 1964. Funding was frequently slowed by the costs of the Vietnam War.  When Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1968, the door was opened to challenge the project for the inadequacy of its environmental impact statement. NEPA went into effect in 1969; early in 1972 the lawsuit was filed. Interestingly enough .... there seems to be no mention of that lawsuit in official public accounts of the project's history.

But I digress.You'll just have to read the book!

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