COULEE DAM Tourism season kicks off this weekend at Grand Coulee Dam with its first showing of the laser light show at 10 p.m. May 25, although it will not be the much-anticipated new laser light show.
That show won’t be unveiled until Aug. 8.
“It’s still in production,” spokeswoman Lynne Brougher said of the $1.6 million new show.
“The graphics take a tremendous amount of hours to develop, so that’s what’s being done right now.”
The laser light show – the existing show and later the new one — will run nightly from Saturday until Sept. 30. The starting time is 10 p.m. until August, when it moves to 9:30 p.m. In September, the show will start at 8:30 p.m.
Memorial Day weekend also marks the expansion of dam tours, with eight tours running daily.
“Memorial Day can be a busy weekend,” Brougher said. “It will slow down a little until the end of school, then really starts to pick up in mid-June.”
The tours and visitors center had been in jeopardy of major cutbacks this summer, due to federal sequestration, but the Department of the Interior granted an exemption to the Bureau of Reclamation to allow the hiring of tour guides.
Grand Coulee Dam Area Chamber of Commerce Manager Peggy Nevsimal said reduced hours for tourists at the dam would have taken its toll on the local economy.
“We were a little panicked,” Nevsimal said.
“They were concerned they were going to have close the visitors center on Mondays and Tuesdays, and that’s a really hard thing to say to a tourist.”
She said so much of the area’s tourism is centered around the dam and the three nearby lakes.
“It is our claim to fame. It would have been a very, very sad thing for our town not to have business in town and all of those people who come to town go to our grocery stores and our restaurants and our hardware store and our gas stations, and to say that you’re not going to have business,” she said. “So many of our businesses make most of their money during the summer months. It would have been a bad, bad thing for our town.”
“It’s extremely important for the community,” Brougher said. “If we couldn’t hire tour guides, we would have to reduce hours and tours. I know that the community relies on the visitors that come here for the dam.”
In addition to the eight tour guides hired, Brougher said Grand Coulee Dam also received exemptions to hire one archeologist and one engineer.
While Brougher said the dam was lucky to get the exemptions it did, a hiring freeze remains in place.
“We have many more positions to fill, but currently cannot do that,” she said.
She said the dam is at the point where it cannot hire replacements if any of its currently filled positions are vacated.
Grand Coulee Dam has been running its current laser show since 1989. LumaLaser, a company based in Eugene, Ore., was awarded the $1.6 million contract to design and install state-of-the-art laser and audio equipment, and write and produce the new show. The modernized system is expected to consume 75 percent less electricity.