When McNary Dam celebrates its 50th anniversary Thursday, it will be celebrating a half century of growth and change for Eastern Oregon.

Construction on the dam to quell the Umatilla rapids started in 1947 and officially ended in 1956. It created slack water nearly 70 miles up the river.

The time since then has not been slack.

In addition to hydroelectric energy, the dam created recreational opportunities and irrigation that have changed the face of this region and change is often hard to accept for some.

The dam, 7,265 feet long and 183 feet high, required more than 800 homes to be moved and inundated the historic Oregon Trail way-station. And it added fuel to the concerns over depleted native salmon migration.

The dam, like all the rest of the dams in the Columbia Basin, became a focal point for innovative methods. After years of work, the dams and the fish are co-existing and the outlook for that to continue is brighter than it has ever been.

Old-timers from the days before the proliferation of irrigated fields in Western Umatilla County recall dust storms that plagued them nearly every summer.

And today the navigational benefits of the dam continue to generate jobs and commerce for the area. The Port of Umatilla is a force of economic development for the region.

In the beginning, the building of McNary Dam was a testament to the ambition and innovation of the nation coming out of World War II.

Thursday, the commemoration of that initiative will reflect on how little has really changed in 50 years in terms of what we continue to do to make this region all it can be.

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