Lake Owen Shelter – Drummond WI

Lake Owen, located within the Chequamegon National Forest in northern Wisconsin, features a typical Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) wood frame park shelter on its northeast shore. Upon completion, the shelter had changing rooms for men and women, which have since been removed. A stone fireplace remains.

The shelter underwent significant structural changes in 1960 is thus ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, Lake Owen is a popular spot for camping, boating, picnicking, and swimming. Hikers can access the North Country National Scenic Trail from the parking area adjacent to this shelter.

Book Review: Nature’s New Deal

Nature’s New Deal Nature’s New Deal makes the connection between conservation and politics in the U.S., using the Civilian Conservation Corps as the sturdy bridge between them.

Maher traces the competing visions that shaped American conservation—one advanced by Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service who advocated the “wise use” of natural resources, and the other by John Muir, who argued for nature’s preservation for the enjoyment and spiritual refreshment of the American public. Pinchot, whose influence spanned both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt’s presidencies, ultimately prevailed, commercializing the nation’s public lands.

Mahler finds the roots of the CCC at Springwood, the Roosevelt estate at Hyde Park, New York.  A self-proclaimed tree lover, FDR reforested his family lands, though his motivation was economic not ecological. FDR admired the Boy Scouts and considered outdoor labor the path to strength and character. As governor of New York, FDR added cutover private land to the state forest system and launched the Temporary Employment Relief Administration (TERA) to hire unemployed youth to plant trees. Improving the productivity of both land and people would be his call for establishing the CCC when he became president in 1933.  Congress heartily agreed, appropriating funds for the CCC, though not establishing it as a permanent agency.

The program was soon wildly popular with the public. Besides reforesting public lands, the CCC was called upon when floods, wildfires, and the Dust Bowl added to the misery of the Great Depression. By 1935, the CCC employed more than a half million men in 2,900 camps. Many went on to careers in public land management.

Maher describes how FDR strategically deployed the Corps to advance his New Deal agenda—setting up camps in Republican strongholds, creating local jobs, and repairing farmers’ ruined land. In 1936 FDR was reelected in a landslide, even winning the home state of his challenger, Kansas Governor Alf Landon.

By the late 1930s, the Corps had turned to developing the nation’s parks—constructing roads and recreation facilities, draining marshes, and extirpating tens of thousands of predators in the name of more game for sport hunters. It was this zealous domestication of America’s wildlands, Mahler claims, which raised concerns about wilderness preservation and ecological wholeness that led to the modern environmental movement.

This is a lively read for those interested in American conservation and the powerful role of the CCC—and by extension, the New Deal—on Americans’ lives and landscape.

Reviewed by: Susan Ives is a communications consultant and editor of the Living New Deal newsletter.

Our Mark on This Land: A Guide to the Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps in America’s Parks

Our Mark on this LandFor anyone seeking out the finest examples of the New Deal, no road trip is complete without a copy of Our Mark on This Land. In the manner of the Federal Writers’ Project guides to the states, Helen and Ren Davis have compiled a superb illustrated guide to the extraordinary contributions made by the Civilian Conservation Corps to our national parks and forests and our state parks. Those public lands were vastly expanded during the Great Depression largely because of the labor provided by three million CCC “boys” as well as President Roosevelt’s lifelong commitment to conservation.

The book opens with a 55-page introduction to the CCC that is one of the finest summations of its origins, organization, philosophy, and accomplishments I’ve read. It introduces some of the key players including the designers of the “National Park-rustic”-style buildings featured in the book’s illustrations as well as the landscape architects who strove for an artful artlessness in the way roads, campgrounds, and lookouts were constructed.

The second section is a state-by-state guide to select parks, including maps, brief histories, and CCC-built features. “Destination parks” are provided for those seeking out the all-stars. The final section is an appendix of supporting information and an extensive bibliography about the CCC.

The book is generously illustrated with photos of parks and structures, many taken by the Davises. If the sixteen color plates whet your appetite for more of the same, I’d also recommend Cynthia Brandimarte and Angela Reed’s excellent Texas State Parks and the CCC: The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Our Mark on This Land is a work of love as well as scholarship. It will make you want to hit the road to seek out what the Davises found in their own travels. Don’t leave home without it.

Reviewed by: Gray Brechin, Ph.D. is Project Scholar for the Living New Deal.

Black Mountain Lookout Tower – Bighorn National Forest WY

The Black Mountain Lookout Tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and was completed in 1940. The tower is 14′x14′ with a catwalk on a stone foundation. It functioned as the lookout for the north end of Bighorn National Forest. No longer in use, the tower remains a popular hiking destination.

In the summer of 2014 the U.S. Forest Service partnered with non-profit HistoriCorps to sponsor extensive rehabilitation work on the tower. Volunteers completed a variety of tasks with the intention of the tower becoming a rental cabin or interpretive site.

Pactola Lake Camp Site – Black Hills National Forest SD

“Camp F-4 was part of a national CCC program to renovate forests and build more recreation areas. Work projects, supervised by the USDA Forest Service, included tree thinning, pruning and planting, fire prevention and suppression; rodent, insect and disease control, grazing land improvement and recreation area development. Enrollees removed dead, diseased, suppressed and excess trees (used for posts, poles and firewood) from hundreds of acres of pine leaving enough trees to produce good quality lumber. They removed flammable debris from forests and nearby areas and quelled forest fires. CCs built firetrails and roads and erected dams, wells and fences for livestock. They manned sidecamps to build more roads, spread grasshopper bait, built Victoria dam and helped erect Sheridan dam.”

Crystal Lake State Park – Barton VT

“Crystal Lake State Park consists of the park’s recreational area, the bathhouse, and the thin strip of beachfront land along the northern border of Crystal Lake in Barton, Vermont. Crystal Lake is a glacial lake nestled between the mountains and it is about three miles long and one mile wide. The park has a half a mile of sandy shoreline that extends along the north side of Crystal Lake and there is a marked swimming area with a sandy beach in front of the bathhouse. David Fried designed the bathhouse for the Vermont Forest Service in cooperation with the National Park Service. It serves as the architectural centerpiece at Crystal Lake State Park, and the Civilian Conservation Corps provided the labor for the bathhouse and the park’s construction. The bathhouse was dedicated in a ceremony on July 4, 1942 and has been used as a bathhouse for local townspeople and tourists ever since. The park was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on August 30, 2005.”   (NRHP Nomination Form)

American Island Animal Sculptures – Chamberlain SD

WPA-funded animal sculptures have been moved from the CCC camp on American Island to Main Street in Chamberlain. A squirrel and coyote were placed outside the Chamberlain Swimming Pool, and two eagles sit on either side of the Avenue of Flags where it intersects Main St. and make this note about the camp and sculptures:

“There was a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp located on American Island near Chamberlain, South Dakota. The camp workers were responsible for many of the improvements on the island and around Chamberlain in the 1930s and 40s. A photo taken by Orrion Barger seen in the book “Around Chamberlain Postcard History Series” by authors Gene and Alice Olson with Jan Cerney, show sculptures made by Andre Boratko. The sculptures were supported by a special Works Project Administration (WPA) artist fund. There were eagles, a coyote, a rabbit, a squirrel, and a fawn. Some of these sculptures can still be seen today at public parks in Chamberlain, SD.”

Ten Reasons for a National Youth Service

Recruitment Poster

National Youth Administration
Recruitment Poster

Ever since the New Deal’s National Youth Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and a brief flurry of public-spiritedness during the Kennedy years, America has minimized both expectations and opportunities for public service.  Fewer Americans than at any time in our history — less than one half of 1 percent— are engaged in public service (including those serving in the military). Yet, the enormity of our country’s current challenges and chronic unemployment point to the need to give young people the chance to work helping their communities.

Here’s why we need a National Youth Service (NYS).

1. A NYS would be a job-creation program.  Sure, it would be expensive, but 6.7 million young people between the ages of 18 and 24 who are out of work and out of school currently cost taxpayers $93 million per year.

2. A NYS would be an immediate and lasting stimulus to our economy. Requiring participants to send some of their pay home (as the CCC did of its recruits) would also help struggling families.

3. A NYS would have long-term benefits for both the individual and society. The youth would obtain marketable job skills through rebuilding infrastructure, installing green energy, restoring the environment and helping during natural disasters.

4. Like the CCC, NYS youth would work and live together, helping break down barriers arising from the extremes of wealth and poverty.

5. NYS “graduates” would qualify for GI Bill benefits now limited to military veterans, encouraging college attendance and reducing student loan debt.

National Youth Association: USA Work Program Float

Parade Float, 1937
National Youth Association: USA Work Program Float

6. Military service would be one among many NYS job options, addressing the disparity of having a tiny segment of our young people—mostly disadvantaged—serving the nation.

7.  A NYS could serve to re-integrate military veterans into society.

8. A NYS fitness program would help young people lead healthier lifestyles.

9. Like the CCC, a NYS would help young people stay out of trouble that could lead to prison.

10. Most important, by offering them a greater stake in their country’s future and their own, a NYS would show young people that they are valued.

CCC Makes History at Bandelier

Bandelier Visitor Center
CCC Historic Area — Bandelier
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

When Unit 815 of the Civilian Conservation Corps arrived at the edge of a steep canyon north of Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1933, the only way in was by foot or horseback via a mile-long switchback trail. Back then, George and Evelyn Frey and their son Richard were Frijoles Canyon’s only residents. The Frey’s ran a small lodge serving intrepid visitors to the nearby cliff dwellings that native people had occupied for centuries.
Over the next eight years, the CCC would build thirty-one Pueblo Revival-style structures for the Bandelier National Monument—the largest collection of CCC buildings at any national park.

Visitor Center Fireplace Bandelier

Bandelier Visitor Center
A corner fireplace reflects the traditional Southwest style.
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

To make the park more welcoming, the CCC Boys’ first project was to build a 3-mile road into the canyon. The construction of the visitor center, guest cabins, campground, retaining walls, water fountains, park service residences and offices, fire tower, and entrance station would follow.

The indelible mark the CCC left at Bandelier took more than muscle. Older, skilled workers, known as LEM’s (Local Experienced Men) taught the enrollees crafts such as tinwork, furniture making, carpentry, woodcarving, and masonry.

CCC recruits learned local crafts, like tinwork.

CCC recruits learned local crafts, like tinwork.
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

The buildings, designed by Park Service architect Lyle Bennett, are of local stone—Bandelier rhyolite tuff— and are built around a central plaza to harmonize with the landscape and culture. The visitor center reflects traditional New Mexican style—a corner fireplace, carved wooden support beams called vigas, and latillas—saplings placed in a herringbone pattern on the ceiling—and are testimony to the skills the young men learned on the job. The Spanish Colonial tin chandeliers and wall sconces they created are still in use.

Bandelier CCC

CCC at Work at Bandelier
New Mexico’s Bandelier National Monument holds the largest collection of CCC structures in the National Park Service.
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

The Boys also crafted wooden bed frames, desks, dressers, chairs, stools, benches, wood boxes, and tin mirrors for the cabins, which closed in 1976. The portal, a long, covered porch, is still used for demonstrations of Pueblo Indian arts and crafts.
The CCC camp at Bandelier—one of more than 2,600 across the country—was bulldozed in 1941 immediately after its occupants left. But their imprint on the park will endure.

In 1987 the National Park Service designated the Bandelier CCC Historic District, which ensures preservation of these unique and beautiful structures and the legacy of the men who built them.


Fullersburg Forest Preserve and Graue Mill Improvements – Oak Brook IL

In 1933, a troop of men from the Civilian Conservation Corps troop V-1668, made up of veterans, started building what would become the Fullersburg Forest Preserve. The men built a caretakers cottage (Old Water Mill), a boathouse, bridges, and picnic shelters at the site. They also renovated a mill located at the site. The work in the park was largely finished by 1936 (Du Page Clerk), and by 1937 the historic Graue Mill, originally built in 1852, was functioning as an educational facility for the community (Sweet).

The oldest standing part of the Fullersburg Forest Preserve is the Graue Mill. The mill was built in 1852, and was handed down through generations of the Graue family as they produced flour and cornmeal (Graue Mill and Museum). According to the Graue Museum that currently stands inside the mill, it actually served as part of the Underground Railroad during the civil war (Graue Museum). After years of heavy use up through the early 1900’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps troop V-1668 was dispatched in 1934 to begin renovations of the mill (Old Water Mill).

Today, a museum stands in the Graue Mill. Inside are many artifacts from the 1800’s, with scenes frozen in time. In the basement is a hidden away treasure trove with information on the Underground Railroad, and maps pointing out which areas of Chicagoland were also a part of the secret movement. There are also demonstrations and educational community events (Graue Mill and Museum) (Welcome).

The impact of the Civilian Conservation Corps work is also evident on the Fullersburg woods. Upon entry, the biggest structure you see is the original boathouse built by the camp in the 1930’s. It now serves as a nature education center. All of the benches have recently been redone with fresh wood due to deterioration since the 1930’s, and the bridges have been renovated since the CCC’s work. While the picnic pavilions have been renovated as well, they are still reminiscent of the work of the 1930’s. Most retain the original CCC stonework bases and have preserved the original designs regardless (Thompson).

This New Deal project served to preserve the past and conserve wildlife. As written in the Chicago Daily Tribune in February 1937, the historic mill boosted interest in the area historical society. The Fullersburg woods serve as a recreational and educational outlet, some parts of which look frozen in time (Sweet).