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6.25.13 Morning Outdoor Files

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Historically,the Great Plains were inhabited by native peoples. The region was added to the United States bythe Louisiana Purchase in 1803. MajorStephen Long explored the Platte River valley, producing a map called the GreatAmerican Desert. In 1841, westwardexpansion started. Ironically, that socalled desert became known as America's breadbasket.

As early asthe 1880s, farmers and ranchers started looking for solutions to droughtcycles. Championing this movement wasCharles McConaughy, a grain merchant and mayor of Holdrege. His first idea was to build diversion canalsto draw water from the river.

McConaughyand Minden banker George Kingsley led a water association and went toWashington DC -- where with the help of Senator George Norris and Secretary ofState William Jennings Bryan they secured funding for an irrigation study.

The first dam near Keystone was finished bythe mid 1930s. As the great depressionhit America and the dust bowl parched the plains, the canal idea evolved into amassive dam and reservoir plan.

ThePublic Works Administration, part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Dealprogram, approved a $20 million loan to start construction in the springof 1936. A temporary town calledKingsleyville was built at the dam site to house workers, even including aschool for their children. There were no fatalities during the project, but there was one close call when Bob McCoy fell intoand through a 600 foot long pipe. Hereturned to the job after two weeks in the hospital.

This largescale project took nearly five years to complete. Over 26 million cubic yards ofearth had been moved for its construction.In February 1941, the lake began to fill. In July of that year, the dedication ceremonytook place, with over 2000 people attending.

The twostaunchest supporters of the dream never saw it fully operational. Kingsley died in 1929 and McConaughy died inApril 1941, a few months before the dedication. However, the dam and lake bear their names.

This reportis a much shorter version of a longer documentary that will play in the LakeMcConaughy Visitors Center as part of their Water Interpretive Center hall; check that out later this summer as the lake celebrates 72 years.

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