By K.c. Mehaffey
The Wenatchee World
GRAND COULEE DAM, Wash. — Some people will miss the soaring eagle, and Neil Diamond singing “Coming to America,” at the end of Grand Coulee Dam’s laser light show. Others will be glad to see it go.
After 25 consecutive summers, the dam’s first laser light show is being replaced.
But by all accounts, the new laser light show that’s scheduled for its debut on Saturday will be brighter and more colorful, with crisp, clear sound and a more contemporary feel.
Developed with input from 14 stakeholders, “One River, Many Voices,” also presents a more balanced history of Grand Coulee Dam, and the impact it’s had on this region, officials say.
The 28-minute show is free, and will be shown every night from May 24 through Sept. 30.
“We’re excited,” said Coulee Dam Mayor Greg Wilder. “In terms of laser light shows, I’ve been told there’s nothing anywhere else in the world that’s on the scale of this. You’re looking at a facility that’s twice as tall as Niagra Falls, and a projection of this near-movie image on the side of it,” he said.
Wilder — one of a select group of people who previewed the show on a screen inside the dam’s visitor center — said audiences won’t be disappointed in the change.
“I think people were getting tired of the old tried and true,” he said. “We think it’s better in every respect. It’s cleaner. Everything’s easier to see. Everything’s easier to understand. And there’s a greater representation — and rightfully so — of the impact on the tribes and on salmon,” he said.
The new story is told through oral histories and uses the actual voices of people who were there for the construction — including the voice of President Harry Truman when he dedicated the dam.
“We’ve got a construction worker who talks about when he worked on the dam, through to folks that were around when the irrigation started. And of course, it has the tribal perspective,” said Lynne Brougher, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Brougher said the Bureau initially planned to replace the old show last summer, but its release was delayed by a year.
“We had 14 different stakeholders that gave input, and they were giving input on the script as well as the graphics,” she said. “We just were not comfortable last year to try to rush it and release it, so we took another year and continued to consult with them,” she said, adding, “I think it was definitely well worth it.”
Susan Miller, who represented Electric City on the committee, said part of the reason for the delay had to do with the amount of time spent on salmon runs, without adequately addressing importance of power generation.
“We wanted to get our point across — this provides mass power. It provides a lot of power for everybody. It’s really pretty amazing what the Columbia does for everybody, including agriculture,” she said.
Miller said she’s happy with the changes made in the last year. “Our light switch is actually in the production of this new one. We were all excited about that.”
Miller — who was born and raised in the Grand Coulee area and who managed the Chamber of Commerce for 15 years — said she’ll miss the Neil Diamond ending. But, she added, “Having a new laser show should bring some new life to it, and I’m hoping tourism will pick up.”
Carol Boyce, Grand Coulee’s city clerk, said it’s a big deal for the locals, as well.
The show has always provided a place for kids to go on a summer night. It’s a great place to meet people, who come from all over the world to see the dam and laser lights.
And when relatives come to town, they always go to the show.
Boyce said everyone’s excited about the new laser light show. It might just cut into her visiting time, though. “The other show had been there for so long, you could go and picnic and have a nice little reunion and not even watch the show.”