Renee Doran – SCA NH Corps – Discover the Power of Parks Interpretive Ranger
I have spent many afternoons sitting in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Museum at Bear Brook State Park, sharing the history of the building, the park, and the CCC with its visitors. I have told people about how FDR started the CCC four days into his presidency and how he wanted to create a program that would rehabilitate the young men who went through it just as much as they would rehabilitated the forests and public lands around them. I have shown tools, shared pictures, and told the stories of the young men who went through the CCC at Bear Brook State Park in the 30’s and early 40’s. I have continued the almost 90 year legacy of the CCC by educating people, but there is a group that has continued their legacy by living it. I want to tell you their story and how the work started by the Civilian Conservation Corps is still carried on today.
You have heard from the SCA NH Corps Interpretive Rangers this season through our blogs. We have told you about our parks and the plants and animals within them, but you haven’t heard from the other group in our corps. In addition to the Interpretive Rangers, the SCA NH Corps has a second group serving an AmeriCorps term to improve our great Granite State, the Conservation Stewards.
So, what is a conservation steward? Conservation stewards are the trail workers of our program, the modern CCC’ers. For the last 5 months they have been traveling across New Hampshire improving trails, building structures, and clearing paths. From building shelters at Umbagog State Park to setting stone steps at Monadnock and everywhere in between, our conservation stewards have served across the state creating better trail access and improving our outdoor recreation spaces.
There are 18 conservation stewards in the SCA NH Corps. They are divided into six person crews for each project. These crews go out for eleven day stretches, called hitches, to work on projects. Every hitch the crew members are regrouped. This allows conservation stewards to see different parts of the state and gives them the chance to work with different groups of people for each project. Two of the conservation stewards each hitch act as the team leaders, communicating with project partners and guiding the crew’s progress. The team leaders change every hitch as well, so everyone of them has an opportunity to gain leadership skills through hands-on experience.
The CCC was organized in Army style camps where the young men would be put into barrack groups and then assigned to work groups depending on the needs of a project. The CCC was only open to unemployed and unmarried men between the ages 17 and 26 (up to 35 in veteran CCC companies). Today’s conservation corps is made up of a diverse mix of people of all genders. One of the benefits of the program is the opportunity to live and work with people from all walks of life and learn from each other’s experiences.
Unlike most CCC companies, who had a barracks and full camp to come back to at the end of each work day, the conservation stewards spend their time camping while on hitch. Some projects are near state parks, which gives them an opportunity to camp in a campground, while other projects are much further out – requiring backcountry camping. On average each conservation steward will have spent over 100 nights camping in a tent this season.
One of my favorite things to share with visitors in the CCC museum includes the tools. They are from the original crews that worked in Bear Brook State Park in the 30’s and 40’s. Many of the same tools are still used to build and maintain trails and tail structures today.
A few more modern tools are used as well. Approximately, half of these crew members are trained to operate chainsaws. Saws are used to clear blow downs and build structures out of native timber. The other conservation stewards learned to operate griphoists and rigging equipment. These beneficial tools are used to move large rocks, place stone steps, and build water bars. Most crews have a mix of sawyers, who operate chainsaws, and riggers, who operate rigging equipment, so they are prepared to tackle the challenges a trail might present.
One of the goals of the CCC was to provide training and education in the conservation and recreation fields to the young men going through the program. They learned how to build trail, plant trees, remove pests, fight fires, and build structures from the foremen of their projects. Foremen where trained individuals working with the US Forest Service or Department of Interior to complete the projects. At the end of their term of service CCC members would have skills in outdoor fields that would allow them to obtain gainful employment.
A similar goal exists in today’s corps. We have staff that go into the field with the conservation stewards to teach them trail skills, how to use tools, and provide support to the crews. At the end of their term of service conservation stewards will walk away with new skills and having developed their ‘trail eyes’, the ability to look at a trail and see the areas that can or should be improved. These skills set them up to go out and work in our state and national parks continuing the conservation work they started here in NH.
I have also had a chance to benefit from this education. Throughout the season I have had an opportunity to visit crews on my weekends. During the seven hitches I spent a day volunteering with the conservation stewards, who taught me some of the skills they have learned this season. I now have experience using an eight pound double jack (what you might call a jack hammer) to break rocks into usable crush, how to use a draw knife and bark spade to debark a tree, in preparation for building a bridge, and use of timber hooks to carry large logs.
Next April, the Civilian Conservation Corps will celebrate its 90th anniversary. It was a significant program that shaped the outdoor spaces we know and love today. Almost every state and national park in the United States carries some mark of the CCC. These parks are the legacy they left behind.
Today the NH Corps continues that legacy. I have participated in this storied history by educating visitors and spreading awareness of the CCC’s impacts. The conservation stewards have continued it by following in the CCC’er’s footsteps. They have climbed mountains, felled trees, hauled rocks, built shelters, bridges, and stairs, and above all improved trails across the great Granite State of New Hampshire.
So, next time you get out onto a trail, think about the people who shaped it and the legacy they left behind for your enjoyment.