CCC left legacy near Kamas
The Mirror Lake Highway wasn’t built until the Civilian Conservation Corps formed in the 1930s. Men stationed in the Uinta Mountains about 15 miles east of Kamas began construction of what is now one of Utah’s most scenic byways.
Those old-timers were recognized Thursday at Soapstone Basin at a CCC 75th anniversary celebration.
Summit County Commissioner Ken Woolstenhulme is a lifelong Oakley resident born in 1930 whose relatives were members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which President Franklin Roosevelt helped form in the New Deal era.
"My uncle and my dad-in-law worked for the CCC," Woolstenhulme said at the site of the Uintas camp which housed about 175 workers. "I remember them telling stories."
Known as Roosevelt’s Tree Army and the Colossal College of the Calluses, the CCC put almost 3.5 million men to work around the time of the Great Depression. Enrollees developed 52,000 acres of campgrounds and planted almost 3 billion trees nationwide.
Seventy-nine CCC members died fighting wildfires, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
"We put these folks to work addressing natural-resource projects," Brad Shafer, a senior adviser to Utah Sen. Bob Bennett told ceremony-goers Thursday.
Shafer is 41 years old and admits he understands the CCC only "through the textbooks."
"This piece of legislation created something that was sweeping," Shafer explained. "It would have been great to be a fly on the wall to see how all this came together This was literally a peacetime army."
The Park Record covered the CCC extensively in 1934 as the camp took shape near Kamas.
"The Park Record sent up a reporter and that person tracked the activities that were going on at the CCC camp," said David Hatch, a U.S. Forest Service project leader.
Heber resident Jim Carroll said he joined the CCC after graduating from high school.
"It was a nice setting," the 86-year-old said.
Carroll described the day he met legendary ski jumper Alf Engen, who worked as a CCC foreman near Pineview reservoir east of Ogden.
"He had us make a ski jump for him," Carroll said. "[Engen] was a snow skier but he could still ski on water."
Engen "was kind of crude," Carroll said.
The Civilian Conservation Corps taught young people trades, he said.
The average age of its members was between 18 and 19 years old. Camps were segregated but about 250,000 enrollees were black, according to U.S. Forest Service officials.
There were about 4,500 different CCC camps in the United States.
"The very first enrollee was inducted into a camp (in 1933,)" Shafer said. "There were camps in every single state."
The CCC in Summit County built the Mirror Lake Highway and cut fire breaks in the Uinta Mountains. Life at the camp was disciplined. The legacy of the Soapstone camp, which functioned from 1933 to 1937, includes a picnic shelter at Mirror Lake, the Adirondack cabins at Camp Steiner and the Soapstone guard station.
The Department of Labor selected enrollees and crime dropped when "young men were out in a field with a shovel and a hoe," Shafer said.
"It’s really difficult to qualify the accomplishments of this program," Shafer said. "It’s everywhere."
With America embroiled in World War II, the Civilian Conservation Corps disbanded in 1942.
Soapstone became a residential camp for Utah’s youth, YMCA Chief Operating Officer Richard West said.
That facility boasted 17 buildings until a roof collapsed under the weight of snow in 1949, West said.
"In 1957 the lodge burned down," he continued.
But an original cabin, maintenance garage and hay barn still exist at Soapstone Basin.
"These young men had the opportunity to raise the hopes of the nation The nation was very depressed," said Hatch. "They were as diverse as we are now."
Women, however, only could visit, he explained.
"They really appreciated the women who came to visit them but they couldn’t touch," Hatch said.
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