CCC improved Itasca State Park [UPDATED]Published 4:18am Monday, June 3, 2013 Updated 6:20am Monday, June 3, 2013
Those of us who love Itasca State Park owe a lot to the young men who labored 80 years ago this summer as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
The program was initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt with the goal to provide jobs related to the conservation and development of rural lands owned by federal, state and local governments.
At Itasca Park the CCC crews hauled 40,000 cubic yards of fill to create a 44-foot dam topped with stepping stones across the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
The Old Timer’s Cabin became one of the first CCC-built state park structures. The cabin was constructed of logs so large that just four of them made an entire wall.
Our family visited Itasca State Park on Memorial Day.
As in years past, one quickly comes to appreciate the work and perseverance of the CCC crews who labored 80 years ago and in succeeding years. A CCC celebration is planned at the park the third week in June.
By June 1933, CCC projects at Itasca State Park were off and running, along with projects at other locations across Minnesota.
Men also were at work at various places in Otter Tail County. The CCC was in operation until 1942.
Each CCC camp was located in the area of conservation work to be performed. Up to 200 civilian enrollees comprised a company unit.
“Enrollees got right to work,” wrote Edward Barber who was responsible for many of the state park facility designs. “They removed unneeded or undesirable structures, built new park structures, cleared lakes and ponds, improved beaches, landscaped the grounds, and developed campgrounds, picnic grounds, overlooks and parking areas.”
If you visit Itasca State Park this summer, two must-see areas of the park are directly linked to CCC work that took place 80 years ago. The first and logical place is the headwaters, visited by thousands of people each summer.
As noted at an informational kiosk at the headwaters, the 1930s CCC project was a seven-foot wide concrete piling and rock dam constructed at the outlet of Lake Itasca. This stabilized the flowage. In the words of project planners, this also “made for a beautiful site at the start of the Mississippi River.”
Another crew placed a log corduroy in the river channel at the headwaters, in 1933. Six years later, in 1939, the outlet structure was reinforced with concrete and steel.
My second recommendation is to take the boardwalk for a 10-minute walk to the Old-Timers cabin. The boardwalk starts a short distance, down the hill, from Douglas Lodge.
A panoramic view awaits you as you take the steps down the hill, from the lodge atop the hill.
I think of this area, near Douglas Lodge, as a memorial and tribute to the late Ken Berg of Fergus Falls. Many of us from Fergus Falls and other parts of Otter Tail County have loved Itasca State Park, but none more than Ken. He worked as an artist at Otter Tail Power Company.
The development of recreational facilities in the park began in 1905 with the construction of Douglas Lodge, the first rustic style building in the state park system.
Twelve more rustic style buildings were later added to Itasca State Park.
With the rustic style already firmly established, the federal work programs of the 1930s continued the tradition when they began large-scale recreational development in Itasca Park. Development was undertaken by two CCC camps as well as two WPA camps.
Architects for this development were from the Minnesota Central Design Office of the National Park Service.
Log construction was generally used because timber was easily available in the area. Established in 1891, Itasca is Minnesota’s oldest state park. The park is located about 20 miles north of Park Rapids.
CCC workers have a lasting legacy at Itasca State Park.