In spite of having camped at and visited Letchworth State Park many times over the years, there is one thing I have not done there. I have not taken a tour of the Mt. Morris Dam. Today I remedied that deficit. The US Army Corps of Engineers operates the dam, and every weekday at 2:00PM they offer a free tour. I made sure to plan my day in such a way that I would be there at 2:00. (I actually arrived a couple hours early and took a 4-mile hike on the Finger Lakes Trail while I was waiting.)
Our tour guide was Lucy (even though her name tag indicated that she was Julia.) Lucy had been on the job for only about a week, and this was only her fifth tour. She was able to give a lot of the basic information without referring to her notes, but she couldn’t answer very many questions. The fact that she grew up in Ohio rather than western New York made it even more difficult for her to respond to questions. She was friendly and nice, however, and I didn’t want to give her grief or challenge her. I enjoyed her tour. (She explained that she was so new to the job that her uniform and nametag had not yet arrived. She had borrowed co-worker Julia’s uniform – with nametag still attached.)
We began the tour by walking down a sloping roadway to the entrance to the dam. At the dam entrance Lucy explained that we could take all the photos we wanted until we got inside the structure. There are a number of security procedures in place to protect the dam from unwelcome visitors, and this restriction on photography was one of them. When we entered the building we immediately took an elevator about 13 floors down into the structure. When we exited the elevator there was a very cool, damp atmosphere, with a strong smell of damp concrete. Lucy explained that we were still above the level of the water. She explained that the moisture we would be seeing is condensation not leaking! We walked through several narrow passageways and came to a long, long stairway leading up from where we were and down to the depths of the dam. This was the “plan B” entry and escape route should access be needed when the elevator was not working. We then proceeded to an exit and were able to stand on a deck slightly above water level on the discharge side of the dam. We were close to the water, and we were able to see the turbulence from the water being released through the internal causeways. The river water was very muddy and brown. We returned to the elevator, then walked back up the sloping roadway to return to our starting point.
Throughout the tour Lucy gave us many facts and figures about the size of the dam, the history of it, the amount of concrete in it, and so on. It might be fun to bring some of the older grandchildren here. There is a nice visitor’s center with a very clear and helpful video telling the story of the dam’s construction. All in all it was a very pleasant way to spend an hour on a rainy Tuesday afternoon.