The river: keeping a promise
(Part 4 of a four-part series)
The list of people who have kept watch over the Ouachita River environment is long…too long to put here. Some like Dr. Michael Caire of West Monroe and Jim Hall of Ruston, who founded SORE (Save the Ouachita River Environment) in the 1980’s, are near the top of the list. Numerous state Wildlife and Fisheries employees and even Corps’ professionals who are not members of the “straighten and dredge club” also make the list.
But I don’t know anyone who fought harder, put more on the line or knows more about the river system first hand than Dr. Ray Jones (a.k.a. “Dr. Bream”), a retired Louisiana Tech botany professor who was also a consultant for the Corps back in the day. His factual, public arguments and information sharing against the straightening of the river put him at odds with his bosses and changed his career, but personal sacrifice didn’t stop him. When I told Dr. Jones that I was writing about the river, he asked to be a guest columnist one day and I promised I’d let him. If I don’t print it, I’ll never get invited back to his famous fish fries!
Guest column from Dr. Ray Jones:
Haddox, this is for your role in the preservation of our Ouachita River. You’d likely not write about your own role, so I did….So, behave yourself and publish it in due course.
Friends, members, and readers of lakedarbonnelife.com, I write to give you some
historical perspective on your webmaster’s critical role in the first long-ago effort to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from straightening some 55 bendways and widening nearly that many more on the Ouachita River. I feel certain that Kinny Haddox would not give himself his just due had he written about his own role. So I make this effort to say to Kinny on behalf of us all a big, “THANKS”.
Around 1980, the Corps proposed on behalf of just a few to straighten the Ouachita River by cutting 55 bends out of the river in Louisiana and Arkansas and widening even more bendways. Such drastic mutilations would have resulted essentially in a “ditch” for what is a truly beautiful river. At the time of this threat to our river, Kinny was an outdoor writer for the Monroe newspaper. All outdoorsmen/women looked forward each Friday to his weekly fishing/hunting article. His uncovering and publishing the facts about this project, and behind the scenes work, set in motion the effort that stopped it. Everyone enjoying the beautiful Ouachita River these days should be ever so thankful that Kinny supported with such fervor the cause to protect the Ouachita from channelization.
Kinny helped me get several editorials published in the “News Star,” as I attempted to inform/incite the public of the dangers of the proposed river straightening. I shall never forget, and I want you to know, that it came to a point when the Editor of the “News Star” bowed to political pressure and told me they would accept no more “Letters to the Editor” from Dr. Ray Jones. At that point, I wrote one final discourse on the matter and sent it straight to Kinny. So, in order to get my words and thoughts published, Kinny, in his weekly newspaper article, wrote, “I got a letter from Dr. Jones the other day and I’d like to share his thoughts.” He then printed the letter. I have never forgotten what courage it took for Kinny to do that; I hope that you won’t forget either.
After a fierce political battle, we supporters of the “crooked, beautiful” river won out. All of us can still cherish our beautiful Ouachita River today. The days fishing and hunting and boating we’ve had there are too numerous to be counted. Hey, tell Kinny “Thanks” when you see him. And I challenge our next generation of those who care about the river to keep their eyes open and stand up for the preservation of the Ouachita River. The Corps has tried twice more to build support to straighten the Ouachita. Others have fought the good fight to win each time.
— Raymond Jones, Ph.D.
West Monroe, LA
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The Ouachita River is down to the 18-foot mark and still dropping under the current drawdown for inspection of the Columbia Locks and Dams. No word on what they’ve found or how it’s going. We will share it when we find out.
River level at 6 p.m. July 11: