PITTSBURGH (AP) – America’s 20th century “tree army” has brought generations of citizens closer to the wonders of nature while enduring the nation’s greatest economic hardship.
If the political winds are favorable, new recruits could have a chance to repeat those efforts during the current health crisis.
U.S. Senator Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and the National Wildlife Federation propose the creation of a Civilian Conservation Corps of the 21st
Casey-sponsored REVIVE the CCC bill is inspired by the original Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, which employed approximately 3 million unemployed men during the Great Depression. Among them were 194,500 Pennsylvania residents.
Their efforts included building paths, roads, and shelters in more than 800 parks across the country.
Many of these park improvements are still in use today, including 10 cabins available for rent at Linn Run State Park, a 612-acre outdoor recreation destination in the Cook and Ligonier townships.
Off Linn Run Road, near the park office, the wood and stone structures were built to last. With some updates over the years and regular maintenance by the park staff, they have remained popular with visitors.
Park manager Corey Snyder noted that an indoor bathroom was added to one of the cabins, adapted to meet handicapped accessible standards. Each cabin has been fitted with basic modern appliances and an indoor fireplace insert to improve heating. Outdoor fireplaces are closed for safety’s sake.
“We’re repainting these inserts to keep them jet black,” said Snyder. The five-person maintenance crew, who are responsible for two other neighboring parks, also refurbished the wooden floors in several cabins.
“They’re under a lot of stress,” he says. “We want to make the original into the last.”
The more rustic huts are served by a modern wash house with showers and flush toilets.
“It’s a balancing act,” said Snyder. “You want to make the cabins as accessible as possible, but some believe that the more amenities you add, the less it can be the charm.”
The CCC cabins were designed in accordance with a National Park Service architectural philosophy that required the use of local, natural materials and the placement of structures to blend in with the surrounding area.
But the huts on Linn Run were not impromptu constructions. “They sleep from two to eight people,” said Snyder. “It differs from cabin to cabin. They are all a little different. “
According to Snyder, fishing and fall foliage watching are among the activities that draw visitors to Linn Run cabins.
“We always had a very high reservation rate,” he said. “The Linn Run, a huge trout stream, runs right next to the huts. It is topped up three times a year. “
There are also two small stone and mortar bridges built by CCC workers in the park’s hut colony.
“Everything is in the same area, which has made moving supplies and materials a lot easier,” said Snyder of the Linn Run CCC projects.
“Roosevelt’s Tree Army”
While working on projects, the CCC crews stayed in camps in parks. Pennsylvania had 151 of these camps, second only to California among the US states.
Three of these camps remain available in Somerset County’s Laurel Hill State Park and can be reserved by groups during the warm season. With approximately 200 structures, Laurel Hill has the largest collection of intact CCC architecture in the state park system.
“They’re pretty rustic,” says Kimberly Peck, a specialist in environmental education in the park, about the camps, which each have central dining and lounge areas and accommodation for 100 or more people in huts or barracks-like buildings.
“People who have rented them have the option to rent them again,” she said, pointing out that park guests must bring their own sleeping gear.
“We have to do a few things to renovate it,” she said of the CCC buildings. “On many there are new roofs.”
Another storage building in the park, adorned with images from the CCC era, has been converted into a space for educational programs and special events. Its name, Camp Tree Army, suggests CCC influence.
“The CCC was known as Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” Peck explained.
Laurel Hill, covering 4,062 acres, was one of five Pennsylvania recreational demonstration areas that received attention from CCC crews and were converted into state parks. About 400 young men arrived in July 1935 and set up facilities such as picnic areas, stone drinking fountains, roads, Laurel Hill Lake, and the beach house.
The park offices at Laurel Hill and nearby Kooser State Park are both wood and stone CCC structures that have received more modern additions.
“A very special place”
Kooser, located on 250 hectares, is home to nine cabins built by CCC that can be rented by visitors.
“Some are made of wood and some are clad in wood,” said Peck. “Everyone is different.”
“The Jones Mill Run Dam is the most famous piece of CCC architecture we have,” said Peck. Originally built to provide water for CCC workers at Laurel Hill, it is now known for its photogenic waterfall and the wildlife it supports.
“It has become a very special place for the living space that it offers,” she said.
In addition to photos from Camp Tree Army, Laurel Hill pays tribute to his CCC roots with a blue and gold historical marker recently placed at the park entrance by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Near the park’s visitor center, a keystone-shaped plaza surrounds a monument with a bronze statue depicting a CCC worker.
“You will find this monument nationwide,” said Peck. “We are honored to be one of the places that have it.”
Remains of other CCC camps are detectable in portions of the Forbes State Forest, which extends over 59,000 acres in Westmoreland, Fayette and Somerset counties.
One of the camps was in the Blue Hole Division of the Forest, off Fall Run Road in Middlecreek, Somerset County.
Rachael Mahony, an environmental education specialist with Forbes State Forest, noticed a building that was being used by Boy Scout groups.
“Everything else was demolished in the 1970s,” she said. “It hasn’t been waited.”
Other CCC remains are in the Mt. Davis Division of Forbes in southern Somerset County.
“There’s a picnic pavilion built by the CCC,” Mahony said.
A CCC building was occupied by a lumber shop but is now used as a warehouse.
“We installed some interpretation boards a few years ago,” she said.
Laurel Hill works
Civilian Conservation Corps crews worked in the area that would become Laurel Hill State Park from 1933 to 1942.
In the first two years at the site, they planted 600 trees, 1,500 shrubs and 750 vines.
They also completed:
• 10.5 miles of park roads
• 13 km of hiking trails and footpaths
• 20 pedestrian bridges and one bridge for vehicles
• 2 organized group camps and 1 family camp
• 1 picnic area
• 3 dams
• A 70 hectare lake
• 23 drinking fountains and 19 chimneys
• 100 picnic tables and benches
• 1 swimming pool