Chances are, if you live in the United States, or have visited here, and do any hiking, walking, running, or canoeing in local, state, or national forests, you have probably passed by or sought protection from the elements in structures similar to these.
Built during the Depression years, shelters and bridges were erected from stone and wood, perhaps made of adobe or other locally harvested and hauled materials. The structures pictured here are found in Fullersburg Woods. The stones were hauled in the ’30s from Waterfall Glen. The structures were built during the tenure of one of the most successful programs ever instituted by the government between 1933 and 1941 – the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC.
It is also likely that your outdoor adventures take place under the canopy of trees; trees planted by the men of the CCC. These crews were often referred to as the tree army. For the men who enlisted in the CCC, it was a meaningful, useful way to work in a time where no work was to be found. They learned a marketable skill or trade, regained a sense of pride in putting in a good day’s work – and sent much-needed money home to their families. They were fed, clothed, sheltered and paid $30, 25 dollars of which was sent home to family.
The CCC was also a massive conservation initiative. The nation’s farmland was devastated by over-cropping and unsustainable farming practices. Much of the country was a “dust bowl”, with land ravaged by soil that nature never intended for farming. Farms were devastated, as were the people on them. With no trees to hold soil in place and no trees to buffer the wind, dust storms turned the skies, then homes and lungs dark with dust, President Franklin Roosevelt led the charge to put men to work building bridges, roads and shelters – as well as planting trees.
On Tuesday morning a small group of us walked through a popular forest preserve in the area, Fullersburg Woods. While I knew that the CCC had a presence in Fullersburg during the 1930’s, I thought of it in terms of what is now the Nature Center. I did not realize, nor, if truth-be-told, even think of trees, assuming they were always part of the landscape. It was a revelation to discover that this forest had been primarily prairie. The trees were planted by the CCC, as they likely were in most of the preserves in Du Page and in Cook County.
Our guide was Chris Gingrich of the Forest Preserve District of Du Page County. He was also the speaker at our garden club meeting last week. He was as engaging and informative a guide as he was a speaker and walked us up hill and down dale through these amazing woods, showing us quite a number of shelters and sites that I had no idea existed here – or just failed to notice.
It is amazing, is it not, what we see in our lives and what we miss?
This is a sitting shelter. Salt Creek wanders behind it. It is open on all sides, with benches on two and a series of logs in between. A sturdy structure, it is well placed and made for resting during a long hike.
We walked up slight inclines, down others, one of which seems vaguely familiar to me. AHA! I think it might have been where I landed in a cup of tomato soup while trying to cross-country ski one winter. We passed a reclaimed prairie where once stood the CCC camp, where men slept and ate, read books, and played Monopoly, a popular board game of the time. Did you ever play Monopoly?
It was a brisk morning; one of the first of true fall-like weather. It warmed a bit as we walked and talked and listened and learned. As we came to the end of the trail, we finished our tour at what it now known as the Nature Center. Chris talked about the stones that were used to build the shelter, originally a boat house. It wasn’t hard to imagine the river frozen in winter with ice skaters gliding across, coming to the boat house to warm up at the massive outdoor fireplace. It is just as easy to admire the building now with windows and doors, for, it still stands and is used, a testament to a corp of civilians who built it – and thousands of other shelters, roads, fought forest fires and helped heal the land.