The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was one of the major initiatives enacted as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to help bring our nation out of the grips of the Great Depression. The concept was surprisingly simple and effective. Take young men out of work because of the Depression and give them an opportunity to work doing conservation projects around the country in what looked very much like a military camp. In addition to giving a boost to our national pride in work, it had a significant contribution in expanding access to some of our nation’s most beautiful outdoor treasures.
Several of Minnesota’s 61 authorized CCC camps were located in northern Minnesota with 16 alone placed in Cook County between 1933 and 1942. Each camp had as many as 200 men, actually doubling the population of Cook County at the time. These camps played a critical role in improving automobile access along many of our famed wilderness trails including the Arrowhead Trail, the Sawbill Trail and, granddaddy of them all, the Gunflint Trail. The CCC was also active in citing and clearing many of the portages we now use today within the BWCAW.
With the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into World War II, the CCC camps were quickly disbanded or converted to the war effort. It was these camps that in part helped develop the character of what became known as the “Greatest Generation”. Surely the physical work in the North Woods helped prepare them for the enormous sacrifices they would make to defend us against fascism. Thankfully in addition to preparing their lives for the future, these young men also left a significant legacy to our beloved outdoors in 10 short years.
The legacy of the CCC and the experiences of the North Shore will be celebrated as part of the Cook County Legacy Destination Weekend, November 17th through 20th. Weekend visitors will learn about surviving and enjoying winter on the North Shore, something the CCC workers knew well. If you attend the weekend you will have an opportunity to explore the local work of the CCC as part of an exhibit funded by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment located at the Cook County Historical Society.
The cornerstone event of the weekend, the Winterer’s Gathering at the North House Folk School will include workshops like Winter Survival: An Herbalist’s Guide, a Deep Freeze Chili Feed, a Snowshoe Shuffle and even an Open Fire Dinner on a Stick. Wildlife biologist Rolf Peters and polar explorer Mark Terry will be speaking on their experiences and showing their films as part of the arctic film festival. If you would rather take a peaceful self-guided hike in the woods, you are encouraged to head to Cascade River State Park where Legacy funds are being used to restore the stonewall wayside along the entrance to the park.
By attending the weekend you will surely learn and celebrate the long history of hard work and the enjoyment of winter along the North Shore. More information is available at www.exploreminnesota.com/legacy.