I had the distinct honor to witness a very special event today at Wendell State Forest - an annual CCC day celebrating the Civilian Conservation Corps. A government work project initiated by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and lasting until 1942, the CCC employed young men from cities and put them to work throughout the U.S. in rural areas clearing land and laying the foundations for nearly 800 state parks.
There are few CCCers still alive today and their numbers are dwindling fast. Adam Drozbowski, 96 years old, lives just a few miles away and still drives up the hill to attend the event each year. "One day," he said, "we'd cut wood, the next day we'd build roads, the next day burn brush, every day was something different!" The beautiful stonework in the park is linked directly to his gnarled hands. Though Adam only lived in the CCC camp on site for 6 months, the experience tied him to the land. He went on to serve in the Army, then returned to the area and worked in local paper mills until he retired 30 years ago.
Stephen Puffer, 95, of North Amherst also attended today's event. "Its been sixty years since I've been to Wendell State Forest," he chuckled "and I'm pleased to see this place so well taken care of." Stephen operated a bulldozer in 1935, clearing roads in the state forest. He's had a life long love of big machinery and currently owns several vintage trucks. "If it doesn't run," he smiled, "I don't want it!" Just like his trucks, he is still in great shape, and in good spirits too. He investigated a demonstration table of CCC era tools and swung the shovel for this photo.
Bryant Stewart, the park supervisor, has a contagious reverence for the living history of the CCC. There are several interesting features of the era in the park and Bryant is ever on the lookout for more evidence. One year while doing some clearing work in Ruggles Pond, he pulled some wood out of the pond and noticed a CCC stamp branded into the lumber. Recognizing it to be milled on site during the CCC era, he salvaged it to build a pavilion on site in honor of the CCC. You can find out more about the CCC in Massachusetts on the DCR CCC webpage. Each year DCR hosts a few CCC events around the state and more people should attend them to catch this glimpse of history before the chance to meet real CCCers and hear their stories fades away.