When California celebrated building one of the greatest water systems in the world, 50 years ago when President John F Kennedy came to dedicate the Whiskeytown Dam to move water from north to south, as reported by the Sacramento Bee.
At dawn this Saturday, people from Redding and nearby places will gather at Whiskeytown Lake and stand where the president of the United States stood 50 years ago.
I wish the rest of California were up there with them.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, our country is doomed to endure an orgy of hoary remembrances, conspiracy theories and sleazy sex tales. But Californians have an alternative commemoration if they want it: On Sept. 28, 1963, Kennedy traveled to Whiskeytown, just outside Redding in the north state, to dedicate a dam and the lake it created. It was the last time Kennedy appeared in California, and the occasion and the speech Kennedy gave remain deeply relevant to the state today.
The history of Whiskeytown’s dam began with an audacious idea: to divert water from the Trinity River, which ran west toward the Pacific, into the Sacramento River, which would carry it to cities and farms to the south. Many of the political players and engineers who got the dam built were local boys, and they played an important role in changing early plans to move Trinity water through much of the area by tunnel. A dam, they believed, would offer many benefits for people in the region: more irrigable land, more water storage, more power, and a lake which, along with nearby hills and mountains, now constitutes the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.
“They asked, ‘How do we focus not just on what’s needed in the population centers in terms of water, but on what’s in it for the locals?’” says Pat Carr, whose father, Laurence Carr, and uncle, James Carr, then a top official at the U.S. Department of Interior, were two of the locals who made it happen.
The locals asked Kennedy to add a Whiskeytown stop on his Western “conservation tour” in late September 1963 – a trip that author Thurston Clarke, in his new book, “JFK’s Last Hundred Days,” calls Kennedy’s “first campaign foray of the 1964 election.” High school girls in Hayfork hiked 35 miles through the night to Whiskeytown. Sailboats were brought in to make the lake prettier.
The speech Kennedy gave was no Gettysburg Address, but it was straightforwardly progressive. “This dam stands for the realization of an old and cherished dream,” Kennedy said – a dream that California’s natural resources would not be merely conserved, but used. He dismissed opponents who worried about the costs of building for the future. “As a general rule, every time we bet on the future of the country, we win,” he said.