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By Terry Ommen
Dusting Off History 

They Left Their Mark on Tulare County

 

Last updated 9/4/2023 at 1:46pm | View PDF

(Photo courtesy Marian Shippey Cote)

Shown here in 1936, Camp Potwisha was the first CCC camp established in Sequoia National Park. Government leaders of the camp are shown in front, and on the far right is Camp Educational Advisor Mervyn G. Shippey.

Ninety years ago, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was established in America as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. The program was one of many designed to put the country back to work after it was hit hard by the effects of the Great Depression, which had created massive unemployment.

Many of the job-related programs of that era were aimed at finding work for the primary breadwinner of the family. But the CCC was different as it focused on men between 18-25 years of age who were generally unmarried and willing to work in America's public lands, forests and parks.

During the 10-year run of the program, millions of workers planted more than three billion trees, and built many miles of trails and numerous shelters in more than 800 parks throughout the country - many of which helped shape the national park system that we have today.

This federal conservation program followed a military model with physical camps, complete with a "mess hall," barrack-style sleeping quarters, recreation hall, and canteen or small store. For many of the enrollees, the corps was their first job.

Enrollment periods were generally six months with encouragement to extend. They were paid $30 a month, with about half going directly to their families, and a small amount put into a savings account to be given to them upon discharge from the program. Uniforms, room and board, and educational opportunities were provided.

Sequoia National Park, under the leadership of Park Superintendent John R. White, received valuable labor from these workers. Sequoia Park eventually had 11 CCC camps with Potwisha being the first to open on May 13, 1933. The other camps were Marble Fork, Wolverton, Atwell Mill, Yucca Creek, Schreiber's Flat, Cain Flat, Ash Mountain, Buckeye, Salt Creek and Red Fir.

The men worked on a variety of activities including road, campground and building construction, trail maintenance, fire-fighting, and landscaping. They worked 40-hour weeks with evenings and weekends free for leisure activities.

Crystal Cave in Sequoia Park was an important project for the CCC. Discovered in 1918, the cave needed work to make it tourist-friendly, so the boys applied pavement to the walkways and electrified the cavern. Crystal Cave became one of the most popular attractions in the park.

The carved wooden Indian head sign at the Ash Mountain entrance was the work of CCC worker George Munro of Lindsay. The young man carved the sign that still stands at the entrance today.

(Photo courtesy National Park Service)

This sign at the Ash Mountain entrance to Sequoia National Park was carved by George Munro of Lindsay.

Although not necessarily an official part of their duty, the workers of the CCC, on at least one occasion in December 1937, became a rescue party, and likely saved Marcel Brown's life. Brown, a local trapper, accidently struck himself in the foot with an axe, lost a great deal of blood and needed urgent medical attention. Through deep snow, about a dozen CCC workers made the difficult journey through Redwood Canyon and carried the injured man out by stretcher. Brown survived the ordeal.

But despite all of the work, they found time for fun. One outlet was through sports tournaments and competition between athletes from each of the camps. Boxing matches were especially popular as were basketball tournaments. Visalia hosted many of these competitions, which were held at the Visalia Municipal Auditorium.

The Civilian Conservation Corps existed for less than a decade, but its legacy remains with us even today.

 

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