Could Captain Shreve foresee Red River as economic engine for region?
JIMMY WATSON, JWATSON@SHREVEPORTTIMES.COM 8:59
p.m. CDT March 14, 2016
What began as just a vital food source for Native Americans has transposed into a multi-billion dollar industry for Louisiana with the Red River harnessed into a vital transportation viaduct.
The unique abilities of Captain Henry Miller Shreve, who secured $300,000 from the U.S. Government to clear “The Great Raft” in 1824, along with the foresight of Congress in 1968 to legislate the Red River Waterway Project, launching a series of locks and dams, has vaulted the river economic necessity.
“Regarding the past, you could go all the way back to the Great Raft which, up until 1838, impeded navigation on the Red River. Captain Shreve and others had the foresight to see what a safe and navigable Red River could become,” said Colin Brown, Red River Waterway Commission’s assistant executive director. “Fast forward 178 years and the Red River has developed into a huge economic engine for the region.”
Since the Federal navigation project was authorized in 1968, the river has generated an estimated $9.9 billion in revenue (adjusted to 2013 dollars) and created 120,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, according to figures provided by the RRWC.
“Or stated another way, the region benefited with over $32 of new state and federal spending, over $47 of new business sales and over $16 of new household earnings, for every $1 of property tax collected,” Brown said.
The river has brought national attention to the area by twice hosting the Bassmaster Classic (2009 and 2012), the most prestigious professional bass fishing event in the country. The ’09 event still reigns as the best attended Classic ever and brought ESPN coverage to the area with the Mike & Mike Show, a sports talk show. The combined economic impact for those two visits was in excess of $40 million.
The river was thrust into the limelight last year when it exceeded its boundaries, flooding homes and causing millions of dollars in damage. Although it’s normally tranquil tributary offering recreational outings to thousands annually, the flood showed it can be cantankerous as well.
Settlers began flooding the Red River Valley in the early 1800s after the Louisiana Purchase, but navigating the river was difficult due to log jams. The most problematic was “The Great Raft,” which extended 165 miles from Shreveport to Natchitoches. Captain Shreve designed his own snagboat to dispatch the logs and got a city named after him for the effort.
The next big move came when the government secured the funds for the five locks and dams, including the Joe D. Waggoner Jr. Lock & Dam No. 5, which sits just south of the Bossier City and Shreveport city limits. The system has served as a year-round waterway connecting ports north and south for businesses the world over.
“The future for the Red River appears to be bright,” Brown said. “However, in order for the river to reach its potential, we need continued funding for the Corps of Engineers to perform operations and maintenance on the navigation features and to continue full time operations of the locks and dams.”
6 significant events in Red River’s history
1714 - Louis Juchereau de St.Denis founded Fort St. James Baptiste, the first permanent settlement west of the Mississippi. It was located where the Red River was at the time. It’s now where the Cane River Lake is in Natchitoches.
1824 – Capt. Henry Miller Shreve clears the river of log impediments, opening the tributary for navigation.
1864 – Confederate General Richard Taylor secured the last major Confederate triumph of the Civil War by defeating Union General Nathanial Banks in fighting along the Red River Valley from Mansfield to Alexandria. Banks and his troops became trapped in Alexandria when the river began falling. He burned the city on his way out of town.
Early 1900s – The river was being neglected and was often used as a garbage dump. The economy was booming but the river was flooding homes and farms.
1925 – The Red River Valley Association was formed to begin taming the river.
1968 – Congress passed legislation to launch the Red River Waterway Project and the Red River Waterway Commission was formed. Working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the RRWC built five locks and dams that have controlled the water levels for the most part and assisted with safe passage for boats and barges heading to The Port of Shreveport-Bossier. The ports facilitate shipping of everything from building materials to petrochemicals to military equipment.