It's 1932 and the U.S. is in a Great Depression. Unemployment is climbing to 25 percent. People have lost their jobs and are losing their homes.
Franklin Roosevelt is elected and in 1933 begins "Roosevelt's Tree Army," called that because his Civilian Conservation Corps both planted trees and cut them down to build look-out towers in the national forests and buildings, roads and bridges in state parks.
Most of the population in the U.S. lived east of the Mississippi River but most of the forests of the land were in the west. From the time of signing on to work for the CCC, many young men under age 25 had to travel four days by train to reach the west. Then the fifth day they were put to work building their own camps-first the mess halls, then the tent floors, then digging trenches for water and sewer lines.
In the state of Washington there were two kinds of camp groups-one of them working in the national forests. These young men built access roads for fire control, 260 forest fire look-out towers and strung 4,000 miles of telephone lines. The second kind of camp either created or improved 12 of our state parks, many of which you have probably visited.
One of the first park camps was at Mount Spokane. In 1933 the CCC built the Vista House, located at the summit of the mountain out of native granite stone with timber framing and a great stone fireplace in the center. State parks renovated the Vista House in 2002, but it is only open on weekends and holidays.
Another early camp was at Deception Pass State Park near Oak Harbor. Although Congress had given the park to the state of Washington in 1925, no building had been done. The CCC constructed roads, trails, bridges and buildings. The buildings include bathrooms, 10 kitchen shelters and caretaker housing, which still are used today. One of the caretaker houses has been turned into a museum telling the story of the CCC.
The CCC also developed Twanoh State Park on Hood Canal. Twanoh is Native American for "gathering place." The buildings and campsites are still in use as they are at Lewis and Clark State Park on old Highway 99 south of Chehalis. There they also reconstructed an old log home.
In Rainbow Falls State Park west of Chehalis the young men built a beautiful suspension bridge over the Chehalis River. You can see it today as well.
Salt Water State Park near Des Moines was completely built by the CCC, as was Millersylvania south of Olympia. At Millersylvania you can stay in the cabins they built and walk under the entry arch. The CCC also did the landscaping there.
At Gingko State Park a museum was built to showcase the unusual geographic features of the area and to interpret the factors making a petrified forest. The museum opened on July 4, 1938 while the men were still building the parking area and entry sign.
Beacon Rock near Stevenson on the Columbia River was named by Lewis and Clark. Henry Biddle bought it to put a trail in to the top of the rock. In 1935 his heirs gave the rock and surrounding land to the state. The CCC built a caretaker house and bathrooms you may see there today.
Probably the most unusual building was done at Moran State Park and the camp at Rosario Beach. In 1934 the CCC men built 10 miles of new trails with 12 bridges and seven buildings. Most of the buildings were the usual ranger stations, bathrooms and kitchens, but one was different. Twenty-eight men began the construction of a stone observation tower atop 2,400-foot Mt. Constitution in 1935. This tower designed by architect Ellsworth Storey from Seattle was both a fire look-out tower and an observation deck of the scenery surrounding the mountain and the San Juan Islands. The stone walls, the wrought iron work, the carved fencing around the deck and the heavy wooden doors were all constructed and put in place by hand in a little less than one year. The tower and the spectacular view is a destination for many .
So that's the story as I have learned of it. Inexperienced and unemployed young men signed up to hard work, a little pay and lots of successful results. They became strong, capable men who had learned discipline and responsibility. They left us well-built structures we still use today.
I know there were CCC camps in the Yakima Valley. I heard of one at Peanut Hump and of one southeast of Zillah. For those of you with memories of those places, I would really like to know what work they did for us.
- Jerri Honeyford, wife
of Sen. Jim Honeyford
(R-Sunnyside), is currently
in Olympia for the
2011 legislative session.