Richard Nixon photo

Remarks at the Dedication of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System.

June 05, 1971

Mr. Speaker, Governor Hall, Governor Bumpers, Members of the United States Senate, Members of the Congress, all of the distinguished guests who are here on this platform, and all of the distinguished members of this great audience:

May I express first my appreciation for your wonderfully warm welcome. I am not speaking of the weather; I am speaking of the way you applauded a moment ago. And may I pass on a message to you that I bring directly from the White House. Mrs. Nixon said that of her many travels around this country, she has never had a warmer welcome than she had in Tulsa a few weeks ago. And she would like to have come today, but, as you know, she is working on a White House wedding. I think she and Tricia will get through it, but I don't know whether I will make it.

I can assure you, too, that on this occasion, I only wish I could have been present for the earlier parts of the program. I read the scenario, and I saw some of the wonderful numbers that were planned. I want to express appreciation to all of them, and I know that all of you will want to join in a round of applause for that television; for everybody that has performed up to this point.

I particularly want to pay my respects to the Tulsa University Choir, and also to Mr. "Sugar Bowl" At Hirt; and to the one that all of us who know her great work for all patriotic causes is really Miss America, Anita Bryant.1

Al Hirt, jazz musician, and Anita Bryant, popular singer

While you can well understand that on such an occasion like this it is a pleasure for me to be here on the Oklahoma seacoast. [Laughter] I remember, when I visited Oklahoma in the campaign of 1968, being lobbied a bit on this project. I flew over all of this area. And I remember that on that occasion Dewey Bartlett, Senator Bellmon, Bud Wilkinson, Page Belcher 2 talked to me about the enormous promise and, of course, the fact that this project was to be completed-and that I must return to participate in its dedication. Well, I promised to be back on the day when the Gulf of Mexico came up to Catoosa. I am delighted to make good on that promise. Here I am.

2 Dewey F. Bartlett, Governor of Oklahoma 1969-71; Senator Henry L. Bellrnon of Oklahoma; Charles B. Wilkinson, head coach of the University of Oklahoma football team 1947-64, and Special Consultant to the President; and Representative Page Belcher of Oklahoma.

The friendliness of the people here, which you have demonstrated so eloquently today, the beauty of the land that I have seen around us as we flew in on the helicopter, always makes me glad to return to what is Will Rogers country. But this is the first time I have had a chance to go one up on that great cowboy philosopher. You know, with him--and all of us will remember reading him, out in Los Angeles he had a little column, as he did all over the country, and it was "must" reading for everybody, even in those days--the joke was usually, for Will Rogers, on the Government. One time in 1923 he was spoofing the Congress about its public works spending, and he made his point by saying that with all that money being passed out he could probably even get himself a harbor built on the Verdigris River at Oologah. I think that is the way you pronounce it. I practiced it on the way out on the airplane.

Well, this magnificent new port is still a few miles downstream from Oologah, but it is close enough that this time the Corps of Engineers and the people of the supposedly landlocked Sooner State can have the last laugh. For years there were many who dismissed the idea of an Arkansas River waterway as a foolish dream. But there were others, men like Senator Bob Kerr and John McClellan,3 who held it as a bold and achievable vision. The completed project that we dedicate today has proved that they were right.

3The late Robert S. Kerr, United States Senator from Oklahoma 1949-63; and Senator John L. McClellan of Arkansas.

With the opening of this great navigation system, the new "maritime States" of Oklahoma and Arkansas can look forward to a whole new era of growth and development. And so, too, can Kansas, which may one day have ports of its own on the Arkansas, and Colorado, and all of the other States of this heartland region that will be sharing in the benefits of this waterway.

At the same time, speaking as, and representing all of the people of the United States as President of the United States, I can say that all the American people join you in celebrating this achievement, because it belongs to all of us and helps all the Nation. Because, you see, in a very real sense, the progress and prosperity it will bring you mean added progress and prosperity to all of America.

We think, for instance, of the two-way savings water transportation is already beginning to bring the farm industry in this region. Lower shipping costs coming in mean that the farmer pays less for his fertilizer, machinery, and other supplies, and lower shipping costs going out mean that the farmer can pocket more of the market price of his crops and livestock. In that way, farm income is boosted twice, and the benefits extend across America and around the world to everyone who depends on the beef and the wheat, the cotton, the soybeans, all the other products of mid-America's agriculture.

I believe that what is good for the farmer is good for his customers and good for America, and this project proves it. That is one big reason we are grateful to see this waterway go into operation.

As we assess the significance, we think, too, about the tremendously important oil and natural gas resources that have meant so much to the growth of Oklahoma and the industrial development of this country. We think about the major coal fields that will now become much more accessible along the Arkansas River in these two States. I realize there is legitimate concern about some of the serious environmental and pollution problems surrounding the production and use of coal and oil. But we must also remember that the energy they produce is indispensable to the economic strength of the United States and to the good life which the American people enjoy.

As this new waterway encourages growth and development, regional energy needs will increase even faster than the rapidly growing national needs. This will mean new opportunities and new challenges for petroleum and for coal, which are produced in this region. I can assure you, as I indicated in the special message on energy policy which I sent to the Congress yesterday, that the Federal Government will continue to recognize and support the vital role which these industries play.

But beyond agriculture, beyond oil, we are already seeing the first stages of a broad-based economic boom in the Arkansas River Basin. All sorts of new industries are on the way, bringing with them new jobs, new income, new vitality for communities throughout this region. Private investment planned along the waterway has passed the $800 million mark and should soon exceed the $1.2 billion in public funds spent in construction of the project.

Here again the beneficial impact will be felt not just in Tulsa, not just in the States, Oklahoma, Arkansas, others in the area, but it will be felt across America. For this great region, so ready for development, can provide part of the answer to the increasingly acute growth of congestion and uncontrolled growth in America's largest metropolitan areas. Let's look at America over the next 30 years, dawn to the year 2000, when some of the younger people here, in the year 2000, will be celebrating that millennium, a new year that comes once in a thousand years. What is America going to be like? Well, one of the things that we know is that it is going to be a lot larger in terms of its people. There are likely to be 70 million more people in America 30 years from now than there are today.

Now, how are we going to provide for them? How will we assure to them and the rest of us the abundance and the quality of life which we all deserve? And even more essential, where are they going to live? Are they going to pour into the cities of America? Are they going to add to the crime and the congestion and the pollution that are choking our cities to death?

Did you know that two-thirds of all the counties in this part of the country--and I do not refer to individual counties, but looking at them as a group--two-thirds of them have lost population over the past 10 years, and so they poured into the cities? And now the question is what is the future of growth of America? Well, I think there is an answer.

I was talking to a young couple on a trip to North Dakota a few months ago. I had found that they had left North Dakota to go to a major city in the East and then they had returned. I asked them why. They said, "The reason we left was that there wasn't adequate opportunity here, not good jobs, not adequate opportunity in business, and so we went East. But then some opportunities opened and we came back because we really wanted to live here. We like this country. It is a beautiful country. It is a country where we want to raise our children. And that is why we came back."

So I say, let people who want to live in the heartland of America have the opportunities, have the jobs that will let them stay here and not be drawn away. That is what this project means to America and to the world.

Let me tell you what it is going to look like here. You realize that over this next 30 years this region in which we are now standing could absorb as much as 10 percent of that growth. In other words, 7 million more people. This region can become a new magnet for people seeking the good life, so that we can begin to see a reversal of the decades-long migration trend from rural America to urban Americana trend which has too often acted to deplete the countryside and overburden the cities, to weaken the heart of America and to add to the fat which saps our strength.

There is virtually unlimited promise in the future of the Arkansas Basin provided we take charge of the development process and guide it wisely. We know all too well that heedless and unplanned growth can become a bane rather than a blessing. That is why there is so much interest, particularly among younger people, about the environment. "What's going to happen to our rivers? What's going to happen to our countryside, if we simply have growth without planning?" Questions are even being raised going to an extreme. They say, "Why should we have growth at all?" I understand the feelings that raise those questions. And yet, I think that they come sometimes, and perhaps most often, from people in regions that already have had their share, or more than their share, of American prosperity.

In this region, where you are really starting to come into your own, we cannot simply shrug off the benefits of economic growth and expanded prosperity. We need them; we are going to continue to have to have them. And yet it is still legitimate, and it is essential, to insist that quality keep pace with quantity as the Nation grows.

Looking at this project from an environmental standpoint, we can be grateful and proud that this river system today remains largely unpolluted when we look at it in comparison to others. Right now, as we dedicate this project, with industrial development along the waterway really beginning to take off, let us determine to hold the line on a clean and healthy river, because if we act now, we can make the Arkansas not only a continuing asset to this region but also an example of pollution prevention for the entire United States.

The dedication of this McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System is an exceptional monument--a monument in action. It honors many things. It honors the leadership of the two Senators whose names it bears; it honors the leadership of the Congressmen like Page Belcher, Senators like Henry Bellmon, and others who have also worked for this project. It honors the vision of many leaders of this region who are not in the Congress, in the Senate or the House--the constructive partnership of economic development with environmental protection. And this is a monument to American engineering and technological skill.

I think it is particularly fitting that this waterway has been dedicated to the youth of America for it is they who will benefit most from it. The surge of growth and prosperity which this region is certain to experience in the decades ahead means a brighter future for the young people of the United States. And to the extent you are able to set an example for the Nation in things like environmental planning and balanced growth, you will be doing a service to the next generation, not just regionally but throughout the United States.

But the most important consequence of this great achievement for American youth is, I believe, something that really cannot be measured in material terms. By undertaking a vast project that some called impossible and others called worthless and making it a success, you have demonstrated once again the vitality of the American tradition of daring great things and achieving great things.

I have many memories of Franco's great leader, General de Gaulle. He was a man with a rare understanding of what it takes to make a nation's spirit live and soar. And I remember that he often used to say that France is never her true self unless she is engaged in a great enterprise. Precisely the same is true of the United States.

The spirit that tamed the Arkansas is the same spirit that forged the Union in 1776, that bought Louisiana in 1803, that bridged the continent with the rails in 1869, that settled the Oklahoma Territory in 1889, that developed the Tennessee Valley in the thirties, and that put men on the moon in 1969.

And in an era when same voices urge Americans not to aim so high, to turn from the pursuit of greatness to the cultivation of comfort only, it is valuable for our young people, our future leaders, to have before them this dramatic example of the young spirit still at work in America. Because without this spirit, all the wealth, all the ease, all the privilege, would be as ashes for Americans, but with this spirit, all the future is ours for what we want to make it.

It was the summer of 1946, 25 years ago, that Congress first authorized this project. I remember that summer well. Another man on this platform remembers it very well, too. That was the year I was lucky enough to win when I ran for Congress. He ran, too. He was elected from Oklahoma, I from California. And when I think of all the events that have taken place in the world in the quarter century since Speaker Albert and I were first elected to that 80th Congress, I realize what a momentous time in history this has been. That doubles my pride in sharing with him and all the others on this platform and all of those in this great audience, the dedication of this magnificent project--a project which was only a bold dream When we came to Congress 25 years ago, but now it is a grand reality, and for generations to come it will be a living monument to what man and nature together can accomplish.

As I conclude today, I would like to conclude on a personal note of appreciation to all of those who have made this for me, personally, and in my capacity as President of the United States, one of the most memorable days of my service in that office. Sometimes those of us who see the Nation only from Washington tend to get a distorted view. The reason is obvious. It is inevitable that bad news will drive out good news, not by deliberation, but simply because bad news seems to make more news than good news.

Consequently, if you sit in Washington without getting out to the country, you get an impression of the country that everything is wrong, that America is an ugly country: ugly physically, ugly morally, ugly spiritually.

I want to thank all of you today, the people of Oklahoma and Arkansas, and all the others from these heartland States, for reminding us of some fundamental truths. America is a beautiful country, and the American people are a good people, they are a strong people, with faith in God and faith in themselves.

And the spirit that built America, the spirit of 1776, still lives. It is a spirit of hope, it is a spirit of idealism, it is a spirit to dare and achieve great things. And as we look at America's role in the world, we see a nation, the strongest and the richest nation in the world, but a nation, I can tell you, that throughout the world is not feared by any who have freedom, because we will never use our strength except to defend freedom; and is not feared by any who love peace, because America will always use its strength to serve the cause of peace and not to break the peace.

And I say to you today, I thank you for reminding all of us on this day where we came from, of all of our great traditions, and of some of the good things about America.

On this day let us all stand just a little taller, let us all stand taller and say we are proud to be Americans.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, you can see by this picture here that where the interests of the United States are really concerned, building a better America, we are not Democrats, we are not Republicans, we put this Nation first. We are all Americans, we really are.

Note: The President spoke at 12: 06 p.m. in the port of Catoosa near Tulsa, Okla.

David Hall was Governor of Oklahoma and Dale Bumpers was Governor of Arkansas.

An advance text of the President's remarks was released on the same day.

On June 4, 1971, the White House released a fact sheet on the navigation project.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at the Dedication of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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