Sunday, June 23, 2013

History's Hit Parade

            1970 – the beginning of a new decade and the end of an old one. 
1970 – a time of transition for the little Kickapoo River town of La Farge, Wisconsin. 
1970 – Change was in the air for La Farge, forces from afar were about to pull and tug at the essence of the community. 
1970 – Some people were leaving; people who had to sell their homes and farms to the federal government for the dam project.  Other people were coming to the Valley; people with new personal values and life styles. 
Crank up the jukebox of life as the times for La Farge, “They were achangin”.

The #1 hit song for the year 1970 was B.J. Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”.  With the soggy, wet months of May and June that we have here in the Kickapoo Valley, could we have a more appropriate song title?  But it was also a somewhat appropriate tune for La Farge in 1970 as the federal Kickapoo Valley flood control project with its projected dam to be constructed just north of the village prepared to get going.  With the dam built and holding back the flood waters of the Kickapoo River, folks in La Farge, Viola and downriver wouldn’t have to be so concerned about raindrops falling on their heads.
“Let It Be” by the Beatles was #2 on that 1970 hit parade list and that classic by the Fab Four fits right in to what was happening to the dam project at La Farge.  When Governor Patrick Lucey ordered an “Intensive Review” of the Kickapoo Valley flood control project with intentions of stopping the dam construction at La Farge, pro-dam Kickapoogians howled for the governor to let it be.  Eventually Lucey provided measured support of the La Farge dam and commended the citizens of the Valley for their support of the project.  The Village of La Farge, led by the local dam-backers organization, threw a big celebration party on a Saturday night.  Some say that night and those festivities was La Farge’s finest hour.  So it appeared that the dam project was “Signed, Sealed & Delivered” – the #9 hit of that year sung by Stevie Wonder.
But soon after the governor’s endorsement of the project came forth, the John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club filed an injunction in federal court to stop the construction of the dam.  It appeared that we had a “Ball of Confusion”; the Temptations #8 hit song in 1970.  (I must confess here that I could not remember anything about this song.  I know that I was busy in 1970 as I graduated from college, was married to the lovely Carolyn Kinsey and started on my first teaching job that year.  But I was not totally out of the loop for that year, so how could I not have any memories of a song from one of my favorite groups.  I even went on the Internet to look up the lyrics to the song and listen to the Temptations sing it on a YouTube spot.  Nothing!  Nada recognition!  Every other song in the top twenty from that year was recognized, but I drew a blank on that one.  I did find an interesting line from the song though – “Hippies moving to the hills” – but that’s another Kickapoo Valley story from the 70’s to get into at another time.) 
The Madison-based chapter of the Sierra Club claimed that the Army Corps of Engineers had failed to adequately answer environmental concerns in the Impact Statement that had earlier been submitted.  (Looking back, one has to agree with the Sierra Club on the Corps’ first EIP on the dam project at La Farge.  The report was very brief and basically said that the Corps was going to build a dam and lots of acres were soon going to be under water, lots of water.  At the same time that the Corps’ Environmental Impact Statement was submitted, all nine pages of it, the Corps released a three hundred plus page report on the recreational and economic benefits of the dam project.  Kind of shows where the Corps’ interest was at the time.)  Eventually in due process, Judge James Doyle rejected the Sierra Club’s request and let the dam project proceed.
Another celebration was called for and La Farge obliged with gusto.  A groundbreaking ceremony was held at the dam site north of La Farge in August.  Over five hundred people were in attendance with a legion of politicos fawning over the new project to bring flood control to the Valley and economic salvation to La Farge.  The golden shovel sprang forth and scoops of dirt were hoisted into the air signaling the official start of the construction of the dam.  (Work on the dam had actually begun several weeks earlier after the injunction case in federal court had been settled.)
Supporters of the dam project were happy once again and perhaps felt like singing a line or two from Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” (#7 on the 1970 hit parade).  Perhaps, with the dam construction actually moving forward and the opposition to the project defeated in court, the musical lines, “Like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind” fit the mood of the dam-backer crowd.        
            Yet, let’s not suppose that the folks against the project didn’t have a theme song as well in the summer of 1970.  Maybe they could use the #16 hit of the year for their anthem; sung by The Carpenters, “We’ve Only Just Begun” to describe the determination to stop the dam at La Farge.  For another year would bring other injunction attempts from the Sierra Club to stop the project.  Water quality studies would begin on the proposed waters of beautiful Lake La Farge that would prove devastating to the completion of the project.  Senator Gaylord Nelson began to voice political concern over the project’s perceived environmental problems.
            In the end, Edwin Starr’s one-hit wonder from that year of 1970 probably foreshadowed what lay ahead for the two sides of the dam project at La Farge.  Yes, Starr’s #10 hit for that year, “WAR”, might have set the tone for what lay ahead.  As the conflict between the two sides over the dam project escalated; as tensions between the two sides ended friendships that had lasted a lifetime; as the fabric of the community of La Farge was ripped apart, some lines from Starr’s anthem seem almost prophetic.

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Say it again.