Thousands of men and machines are now at work changing the shape of a 40-mile stretch of the St. Lawrence River Valley. The stream, one of the largest rivers on the continent, is being pushed around as though it were a village brook. The adjacent landscape is being shunted about to such an extent that residents of the area hardly recognize the place if they are away for only a month or two.
All this, of course, is in the interest of power and transportation. But outdoor enthusiasts, ranging from fishermen to sightseeing tourists, are apprehensive over what is being done to the beautiful river. Their attitude is somewhat like that of the GI who was found fishing in a water-filled shell hole behind the lines in France. The GI was, no doubt, in full accord with the national effort, yet, at the same time, he was not going to be deprived of his favorite sport.
The St. Lawrence Power Project, a joint undertaking of New York State and the province of Ontario involving the expenditure of $600 million, is a system of dams and dikes controlling the mighty river so it will produce 1,880,000 kilowatts of electric power. This will make it second only to Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River, the world's largest hydroelectric power producing plant. At the same time, but as a separate project, the governments of the U.S. and Canada are building the St. Lawrence Seaway to carry ocean ships into the Great Lakes.
As residents of the valley and visitors from over the country watch the machines raise mountains of spoil and dig canyons backed by towering walls of concrete, they wonder whether this means the end of the region as a great recreation center and scenic attraction. There are too many big projects in this country where the retreating machines left mountain ranges of raw earth, lakes full of dead trees, and polluted streams.
A pledge that this will not happen on the St. Lawrence was given recently by Robert Moses, chairman of the New York State Power Authority. On an inspection tour the other day, Mr. Moses explained that from the beginning plans for the huge project have included not only the cleaning up and reforestation of the miles of dikes and mountain ranges of spoil but also the addition of a new state park, a large wildlife management area and facilities to aid fishing, boating, swimming and other forms of outdoor recreation.
"When this project is completed," Mr. Moses said, "the area will be a better place for wildlife and for human enjoyment than it was before the project started."
This promise comes from the country's outstanding park authority. Mr. Moses prides himself on having built more than 500 playgrounds. He is the man who built the popular Jones Beach on Long Island when those who opposed it said people would never make the long trip out there. Other state parks, parkways and wildlife refuges have been created under his direction.
Driving through the St. Lawrence construction area, Mr. Moses stopped now and again at some vantage point to describe how the place would appear after the dams are built and the countryside is again covered with greenery. As we talked, workmen swarmed over the great monoliths of concrete rising behind cofferdams. Massive trucks hauled earth from steadily deepening pits, and odd machines contributed to the uproar.
Construction of the dams is scheduled to be completed and the first power produced in September 1958. By that time the Barnhart Island Dam and Power Plant, a structure 3,300 feet long, and the Long Sault (pronounced soo) Dam, 2,960 feet long, will have raised the river 90 feet to create a lake 30 miles long and up to two and a half miles wide. Only the higher parts of big islands in the river will remain as smaller islands.