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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

 

Trouble in Paradise

The Suncoast

To me, one of the most beautiful things about Florida is the sky. The location on this long sandbar south of mainland America seems to limit the haze that tends to dim the sky in the south and mid-Atlantic states in summer. Here, the cumulonimbus clouds are vivid against the blue sky.

About two-thirds of the way down the state is the Sarasota/Bradenton region, also known as The Suncoast. I often wondered about the nickname and, after living here for twenty years or so, it’s clear why. Contrary to popular belief that it rains everyday at 3:00, there is not much rain along this part of the Gulf coast most of the year. (My Florida friends already know this, so I apologize to them in advance.)

A few unscientific observations:  I’ve noticed that the weather patterns here in Florida are different. It seems to me that in most of America, fronts generally move from west to east. If there is a line of thunderstorms approaching, you’re probably going to get wet. But here in Florida most storms are localized. It can sometimes rain across the street yet your yard stays dry. You’ll watch threatening clouds build over your head but before you know it, they’ve moved on without a drop on you.

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In the summer, onshore breezes blow moisture from the Gulf eastward across the land baking in the sun. At the point where conditions are right, like in the photo above, thunderstorms form and the sky opens up with rain. Normally, that happens 10+ miles inland and the storms usually move east. But in the last few hours before sunset, the Gulf breeze sometimes weakens and the storms start to drift back toward the coast. But they often fizzle out as the sun goes down. Hence, The Suncoast.

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Last week I camped at Oscar Scherer State Park, located about a mile from the Gulf. This is one of my favorite parks for its beauty and very convenient location on Tamiami Trail between Sarasota and Venice. Unfortunately, on my first morning there I awoke to the smell of dead fish. Sadly, the news reported we were experiencing another bout of…

Red Tide

I had never heard of red tide before moving to Florida. Apparently, it is a naturally occurring phenomenon reported as far back as the 1840s. What is it? Apparently, it is overly-fertilized Karenia brevis algae that bloom in bays and in the Gulf, reducing the oxygen in the water and killing marine life. It can also cause breathing problems for people. And we humans seem to be making it worse.

The Everglades is an enormous natural marsh that filters water flowing southward from Lake Okeechobee. At some point, people thought it would be a good idea to build a dike around the southern end of this huge lake to turn the swamp into dry land for sugarcane farming. The sugarcane farms create a lot of pollution. In addition, just north of Lake Okeechobee there is open pit mining of phosphate (an ingredient in fertilizer).

Lake Okeechobee is an area where the conditions are nearly perfect for torrential summer thunderstorms. When the rains come, the water in the lake rises along with runoff from the surrounding industries. The dike blocks the Everglades from receiving the water and from serving as a filter for the pollutants. The east and west gates are opened to release great quantities of polluted water into the streams and rivers that flow to the Gulf and the Atlantic.

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Before it mixes with the salt water of the Gulf, the water looks green. Once it reaches the more saline bays and gulf, it turns the water a murky reddish brown. This current red tide bloom seems to have emanated from Charlotte Harbor and has spread south to Naples and north to Sarasota and Anna Maria Island – about 125 miles of prime beaches including Siesta Key Beach, the #1 Beach in America. Not only are fish being killed, but manatees, sharks, dolphins, and sea turtles are also dying. This disaster to our marine life and our tourist economy is being reported on national news and locals say they have never seen it this bad.

Dead fish

A few of our Florida politicians have received big campaign donations to see to it that regulations are minimized for the phosphate and sugarcane industries. We are seeing the real world results of that. This preventable situation is just another example of why we need common sense regulations to keep our planet from being ruined by greed.

After all, as Little Binski, says “If we’re going to go camping we need a safe and clean environment!” And he has a point.

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Little Florida Critters

When we moved from Maryland to the Gulf Coast of Florida in 1996, we were surprised to find that we sometimes go for months without rain. So, the mosquitoes aren’t too bad most of the year. But a day or two of showers provide the conditions for an explosion of the critters. Camping near a swampy area after a rain can be a real no-no, especially in the summer. Rainy season (usually thunderstorms) is June through early October. The sign below could be us at Paynes Prairie State Park a few summers ago.

Mosquito

Other annoying insects are the “no see ‘ums” that you don’t see until they bite you. Dawn and dusk are the worst times. I’ve also been dive-bombed by some deer flies. Larger than a house fly, their bite feels like it’s taking a chunk of flesh. I feel bad for the deer! Luckily, they move slowly enough for your to swat them to death in retaliation.

Some of the worst pests have migrated up from Central America and, apparently, are still marching northwards. (Tomorrow could be your lucky day!) One of my first mistakes in Florida was absent-mindedly stepping on a fire ant hill. These little red-colored critters seem to have organized armies. Just touch a fire ant hill and watch them go crazy! And do they sting!!! Believe me, there is a reason they are called “fire” ants.

Fire ant

Medium Florida Critters

While the insects are bothersome, there are some Florida critters that can kill you.

Binski and I were taking a walk through the campground at Alafia River State Park, a beautiful state park slightly off the beaten track and a favorite for trail biking. I was admiring one of the RVs, not paying much attention because we were in a well mowed area of the park. Then, I felt a tug on the leash. Something had caught Binski’s interest and he was on his way over to take a look.

Rattler

As you can see, what caught his attention was a 6 to 7 foot diamondback that was moving from a pond and across the campsite where a camper had tethered his dog just a few hours before. The snake slowly slithered under the RV and into an open field beyond.

Prior to that day I usually walked two dogs at a time, each pulling in a different direction. Since then I almost never take more than one so I can keep a close eye. Luckily, this rattlesnake was in the open where it could be easily seen. But it was an important lesson about becoming complacent.

If your dogs are like mine when walking on trails, they like to go to the edge near the brush, a potentially dangerous place. I’m now wary now of letting them do that. And, although I love retractible leashes, I keep the leash short when I take them on trails.

I saw a bobcat a few weeks ago at Oscar Scherer State Park, just moseying through the campsites looking for chihuahuas. (Hopefully just kidding.) Anyway, it was the first one I’ve seen in the wild.

There are lots of armadillos and big turtles, squirrels and rabbits. And, for those unfamiliar with Florida, we have zillions of little lizards. But they are cute.

Big Florida Critters

Florida is beautiful but it can be a wild place. And developments are often located right next to the habitats of some of the big critters. Shamrock Park in Venice, Florida borders a community where many of my students lived. It’s located on the aptly-named Alligator Creek. When some neighborhood dogs went missing recently, animal control was called, and this is the big boy they found. From the looks of that gator’s belly, he has sure been chowing down on something. There are tales of finding dog collars in the stomachs of nuisance gators.

Venice Gator

There is a community just north of Venice where residents living along the ponds divide their back yards with a chain link fence. They give the gators a setback of 10 feet or so along the bank of the pond for lounging in the sun, which they seem to like to do in the winter when the water is cool and the sun is warm. The fences offer some barrier of protection for their pets. I’ve heard, however, that if a gator wants to get beyond a chain link fence, he’ll find a way. Kinda gives you chills, thinking about it. We owned one home here on a pond, but it’s not really a priority for us anymore…

The Moral of the Story

Most of the time, camping in Florida is calm and cozy. But, as you can see, it’s wise to keep your eyes open and anticipate dangers for your pets.

After reading through today’s blog, if you’re still interested in Florida camping, stay tuned to Doggystylerv.com. Have a great day!

George and the Kids

Florida Camping

The State Parks

Most of our doggy adventures are in Florida’s state parks. According to tripsavvy.com, 50 of Florida’s 161 state parks offer camping facilities. And nearly all of them have some great sniffing aromas – squirrel, rabbit, armadillo, bobcat, turtle… All kinds of good stuff!

Mana

I could swear I saw a squirrel!

 

Summer in Florida is off-season. Weird, huh? From June through October, RV sites are usually available. Even spur-of-the-moment. Just give the parks a call.

Look Out in Snowbird Season!

From December through early April, when it gets cold up north, everyone and his brother-in-law wants a spot in Florida state parks! Like everyone else, our dad has to book sites 11 months in advance and be one of the first people on the ReserveAmerica website to grab them before they’re gone.

In the winter, we see license plates from every cold place in the country and Canada. And we even see a few brave people staying in tents when the night-time temperatures dip into the 30s. Brrr!

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Camping in the Florida Heat

Summer camping in Florida is a totally different matter. The summer sun here is brutal and, if the air conditioning goes off for some reason, the inside temperature can escalate in minutes. So, take it from us. If you have pets, try to book a shaded site!

If we know we’re not going to be hooked up to shore power, we make sure our generator is in excellent working order to power the a/c. In fact, our dad’s biggest worry in the summer is the A/C since we have to stay alone from time to time. When it’s cool we let dad leave us for a good while, but when it’s hot we give him a 2-hour time limit. He whines about it, but our safety comes first. (If he’s gone longer than we like, we have been known to pee on something. Our dad’s not dumb. He gets it.)

God Bless Air Conditioning!

How we love our den in the RV! Especially since we negotiated some perks. We prefer a temperature of about 72 – not too cold and not too hot. We like to cuddle under our velour throws and peek out to guard the fort.

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Always at the ready to take the arm off an intruder…

Keeping the temperature right in the Florida heat can be tricky. We’ve seen the flickering lights and heard the gasping generator sound when something cycles on that draws extra power. In our current RV the generator has shut down when the refrigerator compressor cycled on. It even decided to shut down when we’ve put out a slide. So, we’ve decided to keep our refrigerator switched to propane. That way only the only draw on the generator is the air conditioner. That seems to be more dependable.

Well, that’s about all our doggystyle camping tips for the day. Time to curl up and rest. We’ll need our strength if a Florida critter walks by.

Mandy, Anya, Rico & Binski

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