This summer, they came from all over the country and even the world to see one of Oklahoma’s first engineering marvels. However, that is really nothing new, because for several years now, people have been visiting Langley to take part in the free tours of the Grand River Dam Authority’s Pensacola Dam.

This dam that spans the Grand River Valley between Langley and Disney holds back the waters of Grand River to create Grand Lake and is Oklahoma’s first hydroelectric facility.

GRDA built Pensacola Dam at a time when electricity was still a “luxury” for many Oklahomans in rural areas. In fact, some critics said the Authority would never find the market for all the renewable, hydroelectric power that Pensacola’s turbine-generators would create.

Today though, the facility is just one part of large and diverse GRDA electric generation portfolio that includes even more hydropower, coal, gas and even wind resources.

Still, because of its history, impact on the region and status as a tremendous engineering feat, Pensacola Dam is the facility that draws the visitors.

Pensacola Dam 1940

Just as they did on this day in 1940, Pensacola Dam and Grand Lake have always drawn crowds. Today, whether people come to visit the lake or tour the dam, or do both, the results have a great impact on the GRDA lakes region. Image courtesty of GRDA.

Recently (Labor Day 2014), GRDA wrapped up another season of the free tours it offers through Pensacola Dam each summer. This year, guests from 41 different states, and even 41 different Oklahoma counties took advantage of the free tours. Citizens of eight foreign countries also visited.

It was a busy summer for GRDA’s tour guide team as they gave tours to an average of 215 people a week, with most guests visiting over the busy three-day Labor Day weekend. Of course, the July 4 holiday and Memorial Day weekend were also busy times.

What’s the real significance of all these tours?

They do help GRDA fulfill an important part of its overall mission: “to assist in area economic development.” After all, when visitors come to the dam – and begin their tours at the GRDA Ecosystems and Education Center — they not only learn about hydroelectricity, but also about the lake region, and the wonderful recreation and tourism opportunities that surround the shores of both Grand and Hudson.

While many of those tourists may be frequent visitors to the region, many others could have experienced the area for the first time and are already planning a return trip the region.

And that’s good for the lakes region, and Oklahoma.

Headquartered in Vinita, GRDA is Oklahoma’s state-owned electric utility; fully funded by revenues from electric and water sales instead of taxes. Directly or indirectly, GRDA’s low-cost, reliable electricity touches75 of 77 counties in the state. At no cost to taxpayers, GRDA also manages 70,000 surface acres of lakes in the state, including Grand Lake, Lake Hudson and the W.R. Holway Reservoir. Today, GRDA’s 500 employees continue to produce the same “power for progress” that has benefited the state for 75 years.