Schussing in New England, Courtesy of the CCC

A beginner ski run built by the CCC.

Polar Trail at Beartown State Forest
A beginner ski run built by the CCC.
Photo Credit: MA Dept of Conservation and Recreation

The long, cold winter months can take their toll on the psyche of residents of the Northeast. To help stave off cabin fever, winter sports that get people out and enjoying—rather than dreading—snowy days are invaluable. Surprisingly, it was not until the 1930s that snow skiing became a popular form of recreation in the mountains of the eastern U.S. Perhaps less surprising to those familiar with the New Deal, is that the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) played a significant role in making the sport widely accessible New Englanders.

The CCC built the historic lodge, trails, outbuildings and a parking lot at Mount Greylock

Bascom Lodge
The CCC built the historic lodge, trails, outbuildings and a parking lot at Mount Greylock
Photo Credit: MA Dept of Conservation and Recreation

Although a small state, Massachusetts was home to an average 28 CCC camps per year in the 1930s, putting some 99,500 young men to work planting trees on the cut-over landscape; building roads to connect remote areas; and, as part of the government’s commitment to democratizing recreation, cutting ski trails across the state. The CCC also built lodges to keep visitors cozy while off the slopes. The new ski areas became popular destinations for winter fun for amateur skiers and competitive racers alike.

Some of the ski trails were used long after the CCC boys were no longer around to maintain them. One ski run in what is now the Beartown State Forest was used through the 1960s to train and compete in downhill skiing events. Sadly, many of the trails are now overgrown and the lodges are in ruins, but a few trails no longer skiable remain popular with hikers in the warmer months.

Polar Trail at Beartown State Forest

Polar Trail at Beartown State Forest
A beginner ski run built by the CCC.
Photo Credit: MA Dept of Conservation and Recreation

All is not lost to history, however. In Massachusetts, the Department of Conservation and Recreation has done a remarkable job both commemorating and preserving CCC legacies, including several rustic structures and ski trails. Some trails have been incorporated into privately run ski areas like Mount Wachusett in the center of the state, while others remain legendary destinations for backcountry skiers.

Mount Greylock, a towering mountain in the Berkshires (and, at 3,489-feet, the highest point in the state), is still home to the Thunderbolt Run. The trail was first cut by the 107th Company of the CCC in 1933 and quickly became a major destination for racers and spectators.

Plaque at a warming hut built by the CCC.

Thunderbolt Ski Trail
Plaque at a warming hut built by the CCC.
Photo Credit: MA Dept of Conservation and Recreation

In March 2017, a hundred skilled athletes will once again make the one-to-two hour hike up Mount Graylock, rest at the CCC built shelter, and then race down 2,000 feet. From competitive races to casual ski trips to summer hikers, the CCC’s promise to make New England’s rural landscape a year-round pleasure remains alive and well.

A special thanks to Dr. William Hansen of Worcester State University for tipping off the Living New Deal to the significance of winter sports and the CCC in New England via the New England Ski History site. To see historical films of the Thunderbolt Run, check out this news story from WGBY on the history of the trail, as well as a 1940s home movie of the slope being enjoyed by a wide variety of users.

Daughter of Coit Tower Artist Bernard Zakheim: Keep Tower Public!

Read Ruth Gottstein’s scathing editorial in the SF Examiner on the need to keep Coit Tower and public parks free and open to the public. Gottstein is the 92-year-old daughter of Coit muralist Bernard Zakheim. She brilliantly connects the recent viral video of children being forced off of a playground in SF because of its semi-privatization with long standing conflicts over Coit Tower as a free and public space. To quote:

… Coit Tower murals were also entirely free to the city of San Francisco, funded entirely by federal taxpayer funds through New Deal programs.


Coit Tower has not even had a private concession there selling souvenirs for most of its life, since it was simply created at Lillie’s direction in her will “to beautify the city I have always loved.” Given the will of the voters to preserve Coit Tower and keep it from becoming privatized or over-commercialized, I would hope that the Recreation and Park Department, the supervisors and the mayor will get together and find a wiser way to protect this national treasure instead of over-commercializing it.

Similarly, rather than exclude San Francisco children and families from public parks that were paid for with public funds to allow people of all ages to recreate and play, I hope the Recreation and Park Department will find better ways to manage our parks than trying to monetize them.

Sacramento Bee Calls Living New Deal “A Spectacular Gift”

This Sunday, April 27, 2014, the Sacramento Bee ran a long piece chronicling the important work we’ve been doing! You can read the full article on their website.

From the introduction:

When Gray Brechin decided several years ago to develop a catalog of thousands of New Deal projects built in the 1930s, one of his goals was to show how government could help Americans when it embraced a humanitarian ethos.

At the time, Brechin, a UC Berkeley geographer, could not have known how much his effort would be relevant to the debate being waged in America today over the extent to which government should aid the least fortunate among us when a growing gap divides the top 1 percent and the rest of us.

Read the rest here.

And don’t miss the video they’ve assembled:

Sale of Limited Edition Print to Benefit the Living New Deal


Mushroom, Greenbelt, Maryland, 2009

Mushroom, Greenbelt, Maryland, 2009, 2009
From the series New Deal Utopias
Photo Credit: Jason Reblando All Rights Reserved

The New Deal funded affordable housing in both rural and urban areas to resettle people displaced during the Great Depression. Over the last several years, photographer and artist Jason Reblando traveled to the three New Deal “Greenbelt Towns” — Greenbelt, Maryland; Greenhills, Ohio; and Greendale, Wisconsin — built by the federal Resettlement Administration in the mid-1930s. What he found and photographed was eye opening—walkable communities set amidst parks, trees, and schools, as well as residents who are still proud of their tie to the New Deal.

The towns were planned communities that embodied the hope that American citizens would meet the challenges of the Great Depression in a spirit of cooperation. Everything about the towns, from intersecting walkways to housing layout to the surrounding belt of parks and forestland, was carefully designed so that residents would interact with nature and each other. Jason said, “The residents I met on my trips were incredibly proud of their common origin and tie to FDR. In many ways the cooperative spirit of the New Deal is alive and well in these towns.”

Jason is donating the proceeds from his limited edition photograph, “Mushroom,” to The Living New Deal.  The print, a public pool in Greenbelt, Maryland, is from a series entitled “New Deal Utopias,” Jason’s long-term photo project on the New Deal Greenbelt towns. Twenty 8.5 x 11-sized prints are offered at $50 each. Sale of all twenty would bring $1000 to the Living New Deal.

“I hope that these prints will find a new home with people who would like to support your organization’s efforts,” says Jason.

So do we!  Thanks, Jason!

Go to Collect.give to see Jason’s and others’ photography and their chosen charities.

Excerpts from Down Cut Shin Creek


Down Cut Shin Creek,
The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky

by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer
Harper Collins, 58 pages

“If you were growing up in the 1930s in the rugged mountains of eastern Kentucky, you’d recognize the pack horse librarian immediately as she came up the trail. Her saddlebags would be filled with books, one of which might be for you. Your heart would race, and you’d be so happy that you’d shout, “The book woman’s
comin’! She’s coming down the creek!”

…The book women were dedicated. Although their salary was only $28 a month, they were proud of the work they did. Taking books to people who had never had access to them before was not only hard work. It was important work.

…The people the librarians served in those isolated hills and hollows were their neighbors and friends. They wanted the same things their neighbors did – a better life, a better education, and some knowledge of the outside world…

The mountaineers were hungry for ways to improve their lives, and they found the magazines on home health care, cooking, agriculture, childcare and machinery particularly helpful. Always, children’s books were in the greatest demand, and there were never enough of them. And they weren’t just for kids. Many adults who had never learned to read liked them because the pictures helped them figure out the stories. Sometimes, the children of the household read out loud to the adults and actually helped their parents and grandparents learn to read.