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GRDA Ecosystems & Education Center

The GRDA Ecosystems and Education Center is built on the shores of Grand Lake in Langley.

GRDA Eco Center
420 HWY 28
Langley, OK 74350
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About the Ecosystems & Education Center

On the scenic shores of Grand Lake — just an angler’s cast from the historic Pensacola Dam — a new building, devoted to greater ecosystems management and education in the lake region, is now open for business.

For GRDA, the new Ecosystems & Education Center is the latest tool in six years’ worth of efforts to bring a greater focus to lake management issues.

With nearly 70,000 surface acres of water under its control along the Grand River (including Grand Lake, Lake Hudson and the W.R. Holway Reservoir), GRDA has a responsibility to be a good steward of natural resources.

The building includes a state-of-the-art water quality laboratory, which will be the foundation for GRDA’s stewardship efforts, as well as its new “face” on the lake. Beyond the lab, there is much more to the facility that will be beneficial to the lake area residents and visitors. For those preparing to build a dock, anglers hoping to schedule a tournament, or others seeking lake-related permits for Grand or Hudson lakes, the new building will also offer “one stop permit shopping.”

As the new next door neighbor to historic Pensacola Dam, the building is the starting point for the popular free tours of the dam, offered during the summer months. Each year thousands of visitors get an up-close and personal look at Oklahoma’s first hydroelectric facility and member of the National Register of Historic Places.

Another aspect of the building that cannot be overlooked is the large auditorium/community meeting space. While future public meetings can still be taken on the road the new auditorium provides more of a permanent home for the larger gatherings, as well as space for other presentations, events, etc. In conjunction with the building’s exhibit space, and the next-door tours of historic Pensacola Dam, the auditorium will likely serve as one large classroom for presentations on ecosystems management, hydroelectric power, water and/or electric safety, and the history of the Grand River region.

Ultimately, there are many goals for the new GRDA Ecosystems & Education Center, but they all come together under one primary goal: To provide the GRDA lakes region with a new resource to manage natural resources.

Learn about the Pensacola Dam...

Langley -- A record-setting number of visitors toured Pensacola Dam in 2010. More than 9,000 people from across the country and all over the world toured the facility that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. According to long-term tour guide Forrest Graham visitors represented 45 states and 22 countries.

“Our banner year to date is 2010,” said Graham, who has led countless tours through the historic powerhouse in his years with GRDA.

Although the number of visitors has steadily increased over the past few years, the completion of the new Ecosystems and Education center in 2010 has helped boost the profile of the free tours to an all-time high. Groups now begin their visit in the new building, starting with an informational video in the building’s new theater room.

“The Ecosystems building is an attraction in and of itself,” said Lori Starks, Programs and Lake Relations Coordinator. “It has brought people in for tours they may not have normally gone on or even knew they were offered. Both the tours and the building are a huge draw for GRDA.”

GRDA offers the tours, at no charge, from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Four guides are busy through the summer taking people of all ages on the walking tour of the historic facility.  

However, all of this attention is nothing new; the Pensacola Dam has captured the interest of the public since the idea for a dam was first considered in the early 1930’s.  The news of the promised construction in Langley fell as welcome as rain on the ears of thousands of unemployed Oklahomans.  

Before work ever began on Oklahoma’s first hydroelectric facility in April 1939, hundreds made their way to Vinita however they could; some on foot. The wooden steps on the outside of the First National Bank building that led to the second story office of the newly created Grand River Dam Authority were worn in the center with the constant stream of men seeking to fill out an application. In the end, the massive project employed approximately 3,000 men during the 20-month construction phase. The economic engine, promised by the existence of GRDA, was starting to hum. 

Built in the Art Deco style of the era, Pensacola Dam’s bold symmetrical patterns seem to almost speak with confidence of better days ahead. The artistic flourishes that are found on the dam, as well as the powerhouse, verbalize the pride and craftsmanship of the artisans who understood the dam’s 51 arches would span more than a mile of concrete, it would span generations.

Harnessing the waters of the Grand River to bring electricity to the area had been a dream of Henry C. Holderman, who completed his first engineering survey of the Grand River way back in 1896, before statehood.

But, it was a group of men called the “Rainbow Chasers” who fulfilled the dream by making several trips to Washington, D.C. to lobby for the project. Federal funding to build the dam was secured and approved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 18, 1937.

Generating electricity was the catalyst for the building of the dam but as the skies opened and the Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees began to fill, another industry was being generated:  tourism. Grand Lake quickly became one of the most popular tourist attractions in Oklahoma. The lake is truly grand with 46,500 surface-acres and 1,300 miles in shoreline. Being only one of two lakes in Oklahoma where private ownership extends to the waters edge, houses soon began to be built all along the banks. The lake also boasts of being one of the top lakes for bass fishing, hosting several premier tournaments yearly.

The economic impact of the Pensacola Dam continues to be felt over 75 years later.

“There are so many ways the dam brings money into the local economy,” said Starks. “It brings in tons of visitors in the summer, from fishermen to golfers. Its impact is really immeasurable.”

Dam Tours

GRDA is proud offer FREE TOURS of our historic Pensacola Dam.
GRDA is proud to offer FREE TOURS of our historic Pensacola Dam.
During the summer (between Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays), tours are given seven days a week including holidays, from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Tours originate from the GRDA Lake Patrol office, located above the powerhouse on the west end of the dam in Langley, OK.

Contact the GRDA Tour Office at
(918) 782 4726 or tours@grda.
Tours do require a lot of walking, several flights of stairs, and last about one hour.
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