May 27, 2020
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Civilian Conservation Corps Tradition Still Thriving

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Photo courtesy of Kathryn Nemmer CCC Boys John MCLeod, Philip Gouzie and Ralph Bonville, and widow Anne Madore.

By Rex Turner
Outdoor Recreation Planner
Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry
Division of Parks and Lands

A recent opportunity to hear stories from several former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) members, combined with time on the road returning from work in some truly special places, has led to my reflecting on the outdoor recreation field. I’ve been thinking about what those of us in that field actually do, and why it matters.

The CCC members, or “CCC boys” as they want to be known, spoke at a recent event celebrating a trio of anniversaries. The Civilian Conservation Corps began in 1933; the Maine Conservation Corps (MCC) – which hosted the event – began in 1983; and the AmeriCorps national service program that the MCC participates in originated in 1993. The “boys” who spoke ranged in age from 89 to 94 years and captivated a full house at a lodge building at Camp Mechuwana in Winthrop.

The stories these CCC boys told were moving, funny and certainly painted an illuminating picture of a time in history foreign to most of us today. These men were essentially boys when they served the country during extremely challenging economic times. As they turned into men, most of them went on to serve the nation yet again in WWII. Though the great depression and WWII seem like distant eras, the program at Camp Mechuwana really brought home that these men and their fellow CCC boys continue to touch the lives of others today.

Civilian Conservation Corps performed diverse tasks, but many of them directly or indirectly created opportunities for Americans and foreign visitors to enjoy our natural treasures. Acadia National Park, Camden Hills State Park and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail are just a few of the resources here in Maine that were improved and developed by the CCC. Today, I literally walk in their footsteps and owe them a debt of gratitude.

Like others in the room that evening, I have served in the Maine Conservation Corps and the AmeriCorps program. I continue to work with MCC, especially through their field teams, which work on trail projects around the state. These predominantly young men and women of the MCC share much in common with the CCC boys. They work demanding hours in challenging locations. Bugs, rain, sore muscles, camp life and food, and the ongoing need to learn new skills create a shared bond. They also guide and instruct future work. The former work of the CCC, current work of the MCC, and the  efforts of park managers, foresters, rangers, planners, and all workers associated with trails, parks and natural areas leaves a legacy. My young children and countless others are the beneficiaries of every stone step laid and every campsite established.

It is difficult to fully grasp the depth and breadth of what these projects have meant to the well-being and happiness of Americans. What I can do is think in terms of my own moments of peace, inspiration and fulfillment, and multiply that by the millions of fellow citizens looking to our outdoor spaces for physical and psychological benefits. I think of hard-earned vistas along the Appalachian Trail where stress and the press of life evaporates away like morning mist leaving only spruce and granite, lichen and ridges, distant lakes, and a sense of innate belonging. I think of kids’ hair tossed in the breeze of a beach gust or whoosh of a park swing. I think of camp coffee at a picnic table accompanied by the rollicking melody of a winter wren.

These experiences and countless others enjoyed by people across Maine and United States really matter to peoples’ lives. For every mucky stretch spanned by bog bridging or trailside tree blazed, there are stories and memories awaiting visitors. This is the legacy the CCC has spawned for 80 years now. Though the last CCC camp in Maine closed in 1942, their work has been here for generations and lives on for us to enjoy. The MCC and others carry that tradition forward, with the spirit of the “CCC Boys” in their work.