THE CCC IN GLACIER
Story by Janet Oakley
Photos reproduced at the National Archives at Seattle
The legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Have you ever hiked to Heather Meadows and seen the warming hut up past the ski area? Stopped by the ranger station in Glacier to sign in or get a map? Picnicked at Douglas Fir or Silver Fir campgrounds? These places are what remains of work performed by young men enrolled in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression (1933 -1941). Many of these men came from some of the poorest, hardest places back East while others came from our own backyard.
Hard Times: Everything in Trouble
In 1933, the United States along with the rest of the world was in the terrible throes of the Great Depression. One in four men between the ages of 14 and 34 had no job, banks were failing and families were losing homes and farms. In addition to economic hardships, the country also suffered from decades of misuse of forests and other natural resources: dust storms on the Great Plains, over-logging in the Northwest and beetle infestations in the forests of the East. The country was on the verge of environmental calamity.Enter Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As New York State Governor during the depression’s early years, he spearheaded a jobs program for unemployed young men. As he was sworn into office as U.S. President on March 9, 1933, the idea of expanding the program nationwide was on his mind. On March 21, he gave a speech before Congress on the environment and unemployment. Six days later, the Emergency Conservation Work Act was introduced in Congress, signed into law on March 30 and enacted on April 5. The Civilian Conservation Corps was born.
The CCC at Mount Baker
On April 24, 1933, a crowd of 200 unemployed young men gathered at Whatcom County’s relief headquarters in downtown Bellingham to sign up for the CCC. Each hoped they would get one of the 160 eligible spots in Whatcom County, for it meant $30 a month of which 25 went to their families. Once they passed an Army physical and were given shots, they received their assignment to a camp.
Work began on a local camp at Shuksan, 20 miles inside Mt. Baker National Forest’s western boundary on June 6. Forty-three LEMs (local experienced men, i.e. experienced woodsmen) cut trees for tent frames and a mess hall. On June 28 camp commander Lieutenant J.M. Montague arrived with thirty enrollees from Illinois. The camp was designated F-75. A month later their ranks rose to 200.
During the summer and fall, the company worked largely on truck trails at Twin Lakes and Hannegan Pass, while some of the men felled trees, laid telephone lines and cut trail. In early November, the company moved to its permanent site on Mt. Baker Highway between Glacier and Maple Falls. The camp’s name was Camp Glacier F-12, the site of the present day Mt. Baker Baptist Camp.
CCC Men At Play
From the beginning, enrollees at Camp Glacier, as they were called, worked on projects that supported the national forest’s improvement projects and eventually, the Mt. Baker Development Company’s plans. In addition to trail cutting and felling trees, the Forest Service approved a new ranger station at Glacier in the early 1930s and constructed the Church Mountain Lookout to spot forest fires, as well as a garbage pit and “Drown Your Cigarette” signs at Excelsior Camp and signage at Silver Fir.
A Forest Service report from 1932 mentions a late July trip to Austin Pass in which recreation “improvements” were discussed, but things moved slowly in government back then as now. Not until April 1935 did work on USFS structures begin in earnest. The men constructed tables and benches at Silver Fir Forest Camp, a playground at Douglas Fir Camp and community kitchens at Galena and Silver Fir. In 1938, they built the long-awaited ranger station and then landscaped it. They also restored the vegetation at Heather Meadows.
An interesting relation developed between the CCC camp and the skiers up on the slopes. The Austin Pass warming hut is the most outstanding example of the CCC work up on the mountain. In 1938, after years of planning, the project moved forward. The Mt. Baker Development Company offered lumber from their timber stand near Shuksan while the Mt. Baker National Forest forest supervisor stockpiled stone. Work on the building began in 1939 and finished the next year according to Forest Service records.
During this time, CCC crews cleared a ski slope and built a ski jump in the Heather Meadows area. A photograph published in Company 2915 Camp Glacier’s annual shows the ski jump under construction. Camp Glacier alumni recall the men parked cars for skiers at the Mt. Baker Lodge. The local Camp Glacier paper, Bulldozer, published a news item in January 1939:
“Winter sports fans and participants are reaping some real thrillers these days on the snowy slopes near Mt. Baker Lodge. This ‘playground’ is often referred to as the ‘Switzerland of America.’ Those who have traveled much do not hesitate to pronounce it one of the most scenic spots they’ve ever visited.
“Each week-end a group of boys from our camp are detailed to take charge of car parking and directing the crowds. So popular has this region become it is reported there have been many days when upwards of 300 cars arrived to be ‘parked,’ bringing a thousand or more persons to engage in the great recreation sport of skiing.”
Camp Glacier and its company of 200 men had a lasting impact on the Mt. Baker Forest and the small communities nearby. First and foremost was the economic impact. A visitor to another CCC camp in Washington said these camps, run by the Army, were like a city. Increased traffic, delivery of goods and services and local hiring improved the lives of many in the area.
Second was the social impact. Scores of young men were coming into Maple Falls to spend their five dollars or taking a trip into Bellingham socialized beyond the camp’s parade grounds. The camp commander at Glacier worked hard to make his camp present itself in a good light. To fulfill the desire to be on good terms with the community and the ever-present need for recreational opportunities, dances were often held at the camp. The local communities in Glacier and Maple Falls, especially the girls, seemed to enjoy this influx of young men. Girls were bused up to the camp for a dance at least once a month on Friday night. In the recreation room, an orchestra composed of CCC talent provided the music.
The Legacy of the CCC
Today, most of the CCC boys are gone, but the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps lives on throughout the United States. Even Hawaii and Alaska sport their own projects (Haleakula Crater on Maui, for example). As we remembered the 80th anniversary of its creation this April, those of us in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest can say a great thank you for the beautiful buildings, campgrounds and trail gifted us. X
Janet Oakley’s award-winning novel, Tree Soldier, is set in a northwest CCC camp. Find it at Village Books in Fairhaven and online.