Park’s roots traced to CCC

Arnold Wiest, 88, is interviewed March 29 during the Civilian Conservation Corps 75th anniversary celebration held at Cornet Bay Retreat Center. Wiest was one of 25 CCC alumni honored.  - Paul Boring / Whidbey News-Times
Arnold Wiest, 88, is interviewed March 29 during the Civilian Conservation Corps 75th anniversary celebration held at Cornet Bay Retreat Center. Wiest was one of 25 CCC alumni honored.
— image credit: Paul Boring / Whidbey News-Times

The ambitious Civilian Conservation Corps in a mere nine years helped a financially-depressed and demoralized country to its feet while injecting a generation of young men with pride and integrity.

Twenty-five former members of the CCC — one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s pet projects implemented in 1933 under the New Deal — recently packed up their memories and made the trek to Cornet Bay Retreat and Environmental Learning Center to be honored for the work relief program’s 75th anniversary.

“It was a very patriotic day,” said Jack Hartt, Deception Pass State Park manager and the ceremony’s emcee. “The point of the event was to thank them for everything they did.”

Hartt can also thank the CCC for his job. With the help of National Park Service planners, men from the Rosario and Cornet Bay camps developed Deception Pass State Park, laying out open areas like Cranberry Lake, Rosario Beach and Bowman Bay.

“They made it accessible and usable by the general public,” Hartt said. “They truly did make the park the park.”

Their work is also visible in the log railings built along both sides of the Deception Pass Bridge. A replacement project now in progress will retain the flavor of the CCC designs while improving highway safety in the event a vehicle strikes a railing.

“The new railing design intentionally honors the traditional park-like setting that the CCC created,” Hartt said.

The often self-effacing and taciturn CCC participants slowly opened up during the interviews held before and after the ceremony. Their lives and personal histories — unspectacular to them — are unimaginable to later generations.

“Each of their stories are amazing,” said interviewer Adam Lorio, Deception Pass interpretive specialist. With a little prodding, the men’s eyes changed as they were transported to a world wholly different from the one in which they now live.

John Hamilton worked as a cook with the CCC on the Olympic Peninsula. Hartt said the Seattle resident’s sustenance was not strictly monetary.

“He said to me that it was the first time most of the boys had three meals in one day,” the park manager said. “They all gained weight after a few months in the Corps.”

Over 3 million men scattered across every state in the union left indelible footprints that can be seen in the parks they built, or the trees planted, or the vegetation and forests saved by their firefighting contributions.

The program’s existence helped instill in the diverse group of males — many of them destitute and homeless — integrity and the ability to put in a hard day’s work. FDR’s vision was to stimulate the KO’d economy while building a future generation that could take the reins and keep the country moving forward.

“They earned $30 a month and $25 went back to their families,” Hartt said. “They only saw $5 of their earnings. The whole purpose was to help the country recover and protect the resources. And FDR wanted to build character in the men. It was extremely successful.”

The CCC, dissolved when World War II began, still lives in the work its men accomplished.

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