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Corps opens lock and dam site to public tours

DEMOPOLIS &8212; On any given day, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lock and Dam has approximately 12 boats come through their Demopolis site. Starting this summer, the site looks to have more traffic, but this time by way of land and not the sea.

Brandon Smith, a natural resource specialist with the Corps, said the lock site near Foscue Creek Park will officially open to the public for tours starting this weekend and running through the summer months.

One essential part of the river is the system of locks that allows boating traffic from large commercial tugboats to small pleasure crafts to navigate it safely. The Corps has not allowed public access to their lock and dam sites since 9-11, when an order issued from the Department of Homeland Security forced them to close the site to public access and install additional security measures.

The Demopolis lock site was completed in 1955 and is one of 17 original locks originally built along the Tombigbee waterway. After technologies improved, fewer locks were retained. But the Demopolis lock has remained active, getting approximately 300 pleasure crafts a year in addition to their commercial traffic come through their site.

The lock itself is made of an intricate system of concrete and steel, which is maneuvered by both a remote lock operator and the good old-fashioned principles of gravity.

As Smith explains it, when a vessel enters the southern lower pool area of the river, they are floating at an elevation of approximately 33 feet above sea level. On the northern side of the dam, however, the elevation is up to 73 feet deep.

In order for vessels to navigate the depth difference, they enter into the lock bay &8212; which holds up to 21 million gallons of water &8212; and either get raised or lowered to the level required to travel the next stretch of the river.

Smith said as a boat is lowered, it is much like being in a bathtub full of water and the plug is pulled. The lock bay is large enough to accommodate approximately six barges at once.

With this new opportunity, Smith said they hope to expand this knowledge to as many people in the public as possible.

Tours will be given at 1 p.m. each Saturday. Tours are for groups of up to 20 people. If needed, more time slots will be made available for more people. To book a tour, those interested should contact the site office before 12 p.m. on the Friday before the tour at 334-289-3540.

For more photos from the Lock and Dam, visit our online photo galleries at www.demopolistimes.com