By Scott Fitzgerald

Staff Writer

BILLINGS -- Voices from the past hit home Tuesday about the need for land infrastructure projects to save lives, curb damage and allow farmers to continue their livelihood.

Property owner Harold Mullins and local resident H.B. Evans were among a handful of speakers during a groundbreaking ceremony for an Upper Red Rock Creek Watershed Project dam located 2.5 miles west of Interstate 35 and 3.5 miles north of U.S. 412 in Noble County.

Construction of the dam is expected to be finished by July. It culminates a 12-year effort to obtain federal funding, land rights and easements.

Federal officials present at the dedication included Congressman Frank Lucas and former Gov. and Sen. Henry Bellmon, who were lauded for their continuing efforts to get federal funding.

But, it was oral narratives delivered by Mullins and Evans about the origins of the conservation efforts in Noble County that rang deep.

Describing the entire process as "a consciousness transferred to the next generation," Mullins, who has been a property owner in Noble County since 1942, talked about the origins of a conservation effort that came together about 60 days before a massive flood in May 1957.

"We were aware that we had to have a conservation district," Mullins said, noting the effort took sacrifice by landowners in the way of easements and persistent efforts to obtain funding.

Recalling the flood, Mullins remembered 125 landowners responded to a survey immediately after and more than $1 million damage had been reported.

Evans recalled rescuing stranded farmers with boats during the flood. Water had risen up to 21 inches on U.S. 77 and caused havoc in nearby towns.

"Weather is either our friend or enemy. The indication today is to make weather a little more friendly," Evans said.

Mullins praised the men who gathered for the initial formation of a conservation district about two months before the big flood occurred.

The new dam will have a drainage area of 5,766 acres, contain 2,600 acre-feet of water and create a 95-acre lake.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service is constructing the dam under the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program. It is the 43rd dam built in the watershed -- 18 in Noble County and 25 in Garfield County.

The Red Rock Conservancy District and the Noble County and Garfield County Conservation District are sponsors of the Upper Red Rock Creek Watershed Project.

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