Our Wonderful History: The CCC

Who do we have to thank for so many of our beautiful state parks? President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps, that’s who. And there is a wonderful museum to honor those people at Highlands Hammock State Park in Sebring, Florida where we camped last week.

CCC Boys (2)

Highlands Hammock State Park is located in central Florida. As hot as it has been, I was looking for a park with lots of trees. And we were not disappointed by the shade under the beautiful oak hammock there. It’s one of the most beautiful parks we’ve visited.

Canopy (2)

The heat kept most campers away, so we had the 9000-acre park largely to ourselves. Just as I was setting up, however, I looked over and saw people setting fire to the brush. Yes, I had arrived just in time for a controlled burn. And I had a perfect view of the fire.

Burn (2)

Needless to say, my site was too close for comfort, so back to the ranger station I went. They said it had been years since they had a controlled burn in the area, and I just happened by at the right moment.

August 2018 was not providing me with the best camping luck – red tide along the coast on my last outing and now fire and smoke at this central Florida park. The rangers were very accommodating, however, and gave me a spot on the opposite side of the park, as far away from the smoke as I could get. Fortunately for us campers, they kept the fire “controlled” and we had heavy thunderstorms that night to douse the embers. So, all was well.

John S (2)

The next day I walked over to the museum to learn more about the Civilian Conservation Corps that had built the park. I was given a personal tour by the excellent docent, John Schumacher. The displays were extremely well done and John supplied a wealth of additional information about the Depression and Roosevelt’s programs that provided work to lift young men (and their families at home) out of poverty and starvation.

New Deal (2).jpg

America was in the depths of depression in 1933. Immediately after his inauguration, FDR set to work forming the CCC. Under the direction of the US Army, the structure of this enormous program was created in less than two months and recruitment began. Because of the organization and discipline of the Army, detailed records still remain and can be found on the Internet, from blueprints for cabins to ledgers for uniforms and supplies.

Tools 2

At its peak more than 2,900 CCC camps were spread out across America wherever there was a need. Not only did these camps provide work for the corpsmen but requirements for food, clothing, and personal items boosted the American economy and morale by providing jobs in many industries crippled by the Depression. Apparently, most young men came to the camps undernourished and the first order of the day was to improve their nutrition and overall health for their upcoming tasks.

Work photos (2)

The corpsmen planted trees, built campgrounds and wildlife refuges, created roads and bridges, and completed water management projects. Many original log structures built by those young men more than 80 years ago are still in use today, a credit to their skill and workmanship. Below is the campground store at Highlands Hammock that sits across from a similar structure that houses the museum.

Log bldg (2)

During the 9 years of its existence, it is estimated that over 3 million men took part in the Civilian Conservation Corps. Among them, some were destined for fame, including actors Raymond Burr, Robert Mitchum, Walter Matthau, astronaut Chuck Yeager, as well as members of Congress and other leaders in communities across America.

Few could argue that FDR was the right man for the presidency at that terrible time in our history. His Civilian Conservation Corps certainly left us with many outstanding parks. And I was enjoying one of the most beautiful ones. So, my camping trip that started with a controlled burn ended up being a fascinating and educational visit. I highly recommend Highlands Hammock State Park.

Statue

Dedicated to the Young Men of the CCC

 

Some of the photos above are from the display at the museum. In addition, an excellent website is listed below.

The predominantly recognized accomplishments of the CCC:

  • Nearly Three Billion trees were planted to help reforest America
  • Modern tenets of conservation are an outgrowth of the conservation work begun by the CCC.
  • Forest fire fighting methods were developed under the CCC program to meet the needs of controlling wild fires that kept the land from healing and naturally restoring the watersheds.
  • The modern service corps movement in America today is founded on the  Corps concept of the CCC.  Nurtured by CCC alumni and their supporters, modern conservation corps are expanding and contributing to American youth and culture.
  • Constructed public roadways and buildings. Today citizens still drive on roadways built by the men of the CCC.  Vast expanses of public land are connected through scenic byways and fire trails.  Lodges, cabins, picnic pavilions, and many other recreational structures still stand as a testament to the craftsmanship and design of the CCC program.  One of the most recognizable examples of a scenic road in the central eastern United States is the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah National Park.
  • Soil conservation was taught to private citizens as well as implemented on government land. The dust bowl of the Great Plains hampered agricultural output for many years.
  • The development of the infrastructure of the outdoor recreational system is attributed to the CCC program.  Most state park systems we started through the CCC program with an estimated 800 parks constructed across the nation.  The National Parks and the National Forest systems received great benefit and still proclaim the vast legacy of CCC labor.
  • Built and operated fish hatcheries which replenished the species killed by unfavorable conservation practices.
  • Reintroduced wildlife to depleted area. In many areas wildlife was hard hit due to the devastation of their habitat.  Some camps were involved in  research and many more were tasked with the reintroduction and monitoring of wildlife.
  • Military style camp life developed citizens that supported the WWII manpower effort.
  • The boys supported their families by earning $30 monthly through the distribution of a $25 financial allotment to home.
  • Advanced the standard of living in surrounding communities due to the infusion of revenue amounting to as much as $5,000 a month.

http://www.ccclegacy.org/ccc_legacy.html

 

 

 

 

Florida’s Mt. Dora

A Civilized Change of Pace

It’s nice to have a variety of places to camp in the RV. We love state parks but we also like to explore some of Florida’s small towns. To do that we sometimes stay at a full-service RV park. And that’s what we did last week.

One of our favorite towns is Mt. Dora located just north of bustling Disney World in Central Florida. Located in Lake County, Mt. Dora is surrounded by bodies of water, large and small. Our RV park was called Woods ‘n Water. It sits on the banks of Lake Saunders and is beautifully maintained. I opted for a site away from the lake. While it’s pretty during the day, I didn’t want to walk dogs at night near the little inlet below.

Lakeside

Florida is generally very flat and, after awhile, we transplants from the north yearn for some rolling countryside. Mt. Dora provides that. It sits at one of the higher elevations in Florida, a whopping 184 ft. The town is sometimes referred to as Florida’s New England because of the hills and the architecture. On this trip, I took a drive along the shores of Lake Dora and I was very impressed. Many of the homes on the lake rival this one for their beauty and wonderful settings. This particular house is now a bed and breakfast.

Heron Cay

Antiques Heaven

Just east of Mt. Dora is Renninger’s, a huge antiques emporium with hundreds of dealers. It takes hours of browsing to do it justice. Merchandise ranges from old rusty garden tools to high end antique furniture and jewelry. In addition to the main buildings, Renninger’s hosts flea markets several times a year and people come from far and near to set up shop along the hillside and sell things they have collected. The smart ones have tarps ready for those inevitable central Florida thunderstorms.

Renningers

Downtown Mt. Dora used to be an antiquer’s paradise with dozens of antique shops. However, I was told only one antique shop is left in town. I spoke with two dealers at Renninger’s and learned that recently a wealthy developer took a liking to the town and came in and bought many of the buildings. He raised the rents and many shops went out of business. Sadly, most of the stores now just sell touristy stuff.

A Little History

I’ve performed in a lot of community theater over the years so I like to scout out the theaters in towns we visit. On this trip I decided to see a show at Mt. Dora’s Ice House Theatre, now called The Sonnentag. The company has a 12-month season with a new show every other month. I saw the musical Sweet Charity that I had done 30 years ago. This group of local actors did a fine job.

The older I get the more fascinated I am by history. Although Mt. Dora is not as old as many northern towns in America, it has an interesting past. The original theater opened in 1948 in a converted ice plant on the shore of Lake Dora where the Yacht Club now sits. This blurred little photo reminds me how important it is to take pictures. Maybe it’s the only one still around of this significant bit of history.

Ice House

In 1957 a new theater was built on the east side of Mt. Dora. Even the “new” building needed refurbishing after 60 years and I’m happy to report that everything looks great. The artistic director handed me my ticket at the box office, introduced the show to the audience, and sold me some candy at intermission. It is a true community theater and worth a visit.

Oh yeah, the doggies…

Since I was going to spend more time in town on this trip, I took just two dogs. Rico the psychohuahua travels like a pro. He is relaxed and the motion of the vehicle lulls him to sleep in no time. Binski, on the other hand, is tense. He won’t allow himself to doze off, so he semi-reclines, head nodding, eyelids drooping, fighting sleep all the way. By the time we get to our destination, he is exhausted and has to hibernate for awhile.

Binki Guard (2)

Getting There

Driving an RV is generally harder than driving a car, especially at highway speeds. And in our typical summer rain and cross-winds it can be a real challenge. So, for the 150-mile trip to Mt. Dora I chose some two-lane roads that meandered through small villages and lots of open land. On the day of our return trip, the forecast was for possible severe thunderstorms and hail. I had planned to do a few things that morning but opted for a safe drive home instead. By leaving early we were able to outrun the weather system as it swept south out of Georgia.

My very well-behaved traveling companions deserved a treat, so we made a final stop at McDonald’s for a cheeseburger. And Rico took the time to pose for a photo. An hour later we arrived home safely from another enjoyable trip.

Beggar