Conchas Dam hits 70 years

By Ryn Gargulinski: Freedom Newspapers

Conchas Dam is having a birthday.

The dam, 32 miles northwest of Tucumcari, began construction on July 23, 1935. A celebration is planned for 10 a.m. on Friday at Conchas Lake State Park’s Core of Engineers Park. The celebration will include presentations, photography, historical films, tours of the dam — and a fellow who was there when the dam was built.

Earl Flint, who just celebrated his own birthday of 95 years, said he plans to be on hand to honor the dam.

“If the dam was never built, it would have affected so many, many people,” Flint said. The dam was initially constructed, in part, to help stave off the Great Depression and ended up giving jobs to nearly 3,000.

Although Flint said the project served him well with plenty of work, it was no easy task. When he and his wife first moved to the area where the dam was to be built in 1934, neither roads nor people were around.

“It was in a desperate place with nothing close to it, and the main part of it (the project) was getting stuff out there for people to live,” he said.

While hauling supplies and operating heavy machinery, Flint said he and his wife lived in an 8-foot by 24-foot plywood building on a four-wheel pickup on car axles with a lean-to attached.

The Conchas Dam, which took three years and five months to complete, was signed into action when President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the Emergency Relief Act of 1935. In addition to boosting the state’s economy, the dam was built to conserve water, provide irrigation and control flooding.

But the dam — and Conchas Lake — soon turned into so much more and keeps growing in popularity.

“The lake as a recreation place has stuff we didn’t ever dream of — people having boats and motor homes,” Flint said. “I guess I’m one of the lucky ones who got to live to see all this. It’s a completely different world as far as recreation. It has been a wonderful lake for that.”

Flint’s son, Richard Flint, said he shares his father’s passion for Conchas.

“I’ve been to a lot of nice lakes up in Colorado but I still like Conchas better than all of them,” Richard Flint said. Not only does the beauty of Conchas blow him away, but he said he is awed by its power.

“I respect that lake as much as I do the ocean,” Richard Flint said, sharing an anecdote about a tornado that once blasted across the lake and picked up his boat to land it on a dock.

Richard Flint said he also enjoys the fishing at the lake — from its catfish to its bass — and has fond memories of passing time with family on its shores. He said they even had a massive fish fry from all the fish they caught last weekend to celebrate his father’s 95th birthday.

“There was enough fish to feed a neighborhood,” he said.