Engaging the Public
Educating the public about places and people that mattered significantly to national and local history is essential to any preservation project and vital to enriching the present. However, the importance of preservation is often difficult to relate to the public. Extracting a 1930s, barely-used bathhouse from a swamp and re-building it in a new location seems, to the public, a waste of resources. During my summer internship the question of ‘why this building?’ was often posed. Compared to attempting the explanation of why we were preserving this bathhouse refitting and lifting half-ton logs was easy
As the project went on, however, it became easier to explain why. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) originated in a time of financial hardship for the United States. Government programs, like the CCC, created jobs for those that struggled and generated hope for the nation during the Great Depression. Corps projects aimed to improve parks and forests to generate local jobs and stimulate the economy (Merrill 1982). Being involved in the reconstruction of a CCC project building and understanding the project’s purpose created an appreciation for that time of hardship for both the government employees and the volunteers working on this preservation project. Current national hardships reflect similar struggles from the Great Depression. Reconstructing a building from that era reminds the public that the nation has overcome hard times before.
The Passport in Time project engages the public in a unique way, allowing volunteers to work alongside professionals to preserve history. Involving volunteers in active preservations aggressively educates the public through hands-on experiences and personal memories (Laskowski 2007). Engaging the public with a preservation project in a personal way creates an appreciation that is often lost when trying to relate why similar projects are vital. Volunteers continue to remember and relate a Passport in Time project to others, which continues to preserve the importance of such ventures (Laskowski 2007). There is always a need to remember the past. Finding a method that preserves and educates the public is necessary for cultivating appreciation for preservation efforts.
The History of PIT
The Passport in Time (PIT) program is a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service historical and archaeological preservation program. The PIT program allows volunteers to work with historians and archaeologists on projects focused on engaging the public in conservation. These projects occur throughout the United States in many National Forests. Projects range from simple archaeological survey to historical restoration, from initial excavation to artifact cataloguing. Usually a National Forest archaeologist or staff member hosts a PIT project and works alongside the volunteers (Laskowski 2007). This gives the volunteers the rare opportunity to participate directly in preserving the past while learning about archaeology and the history of the National Forests.
The PIT program originated during an archaeological field school of the University of Minnesota-Duluth. The instructor, Gordon Peters, would allow tour guides from nearby resorts to show tourists around to see real archaeologists at work. Students of the field school would learn essential skills while demonstrating the professional field of archaeology to the curious public. This arrangement continued for a few years until one fateful summer in 1988, when no one signed up for the field school. Having found a popular attraction for the curious public visiting the resorts and the forest, the Forest Service and the resort tour guides undertook the task of finding volunteers to participate in the professional aspect of archaeology instead of field school students. This gave Peters the opportunity to continue working on archaeological research and educate volunteers with a unique experience. That summer, test excavations were completed at two sites in the Superior National Forest. Peters encouraged other archaeologists in other national forests to adopt the idea of catering to tourists to gather volunteers (Laskowski 2007). That initial step towards public involvement was indispensable in educating the public about preservation.
Around the same time, in Ontario, the Ontario Archaeological Society initiated a similar program. The Passport to the Past program allowed participating volunteers to collect stamps for each experience while contributing to historical preservation. Expounding on this idea, Peters encouraged other National Forests to host their own volunteer projects, furthering the idea of volunteers participating in multiple projects throughout the year and across the country. In 1989, volunteers were issued the very first Passport in Time blue passport (current ones are now green to avoid confusion with actual American passports). National Forests continued to join the program and finally, in 1991, PIT became an official national program. Today 117 National Forests participate in the program (Laskowski 2007).
Steve Kramer, the lead archaeologist for the Colville National Forest, usually hosts one PIT project per year and has built a rapport with a few recurring volunteers who returned to the forest this summer to help with the Growden Project. Hundreds of volunteers participate throughout the year and many have logged thousands of hours. Some participate in multiple projects during the year and a few have contributed for over a decade. Bev and Gordon Moog volunteered to stay on the Growden project past the week that they had originally signed up for and continued to work the entire three weeks of the project. After only a week of respite after their time with the Growden PIT project was complete, they left for Montana for a PIT archaeological dig on an airplane wreckage site. They could not remember if they had signed up for four or five projects this year if not more. The PIT website maintains an honor roll of volunteers that begins at 500 hours. Over 492 volunteers have made the honor roll and though only five have contributed over five thousand hours (including Gordon and Bev), it is clear that this program donates vital hours to historical preservation.
For volunteers like Bev and Gordon, the Passport in Time program is a great way to spend their retirement years. They have the opportunity to contribute to important and significant projects that will continue to give to the public and preserve pieces of history. All of the volunteers that worked with us for those three weeks were retirement age and most could recall the importance of the Civilian Conservation Corps to others during the Great Depression. Gordon Moog commented that this project is particularly significant as a reminder of another difficult time for Americans and that being able to rebuild this structure for the National Forest was very symbolic of overcoming similar hardships again.
History of Colville National Forest and the CCC Bathhouse
The Colville National Forest in the Northeast corner of Washington State was founded in 1907 after President Theodore Roosevelt set aside sixteen million acres specifically for forest reserves. The Colville National Forest consists of 1.1 million acres and includes the Selkirk mountain range and the upper Columbia River (Colville National Forest Website 2007).
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed the New Deal Acts the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was created to provide jobs for unemployed young men from 1933 to 1942. During the Great Depression the reprieve of having a job gave hope to a population dealing with the tribulations of the time. The CCC constructed more than 800 of America’s parks, improved existing parks, and constructed the network of roadways and service buildings through the parks. The CCC was also responsible for the construction of fire watchtowers and perfected firefighting procedures (Merrill 1982). Indirectly, the CCC engaged the publics’ awareness of the nations’ forests and appreciation for a continued plan for the protection of the nations’ natural resources.
The creation of the National Parks and Forests preserves and conserves America’s most valuable resources for the public to enjoy today. Parks and forests maintain the country’s varied wildlife and plant life for people to enjoy and appreciate. Few realize that the Civilian Corps made access to these resources possible.
In the Colville National Forest, the CCC created roads, public access ways, fire watches, and public use areas, including Camp Growden. The CCC built most of the public use features seen in parks today (Maher 2008). The CCC at Camp Growden dammed Sherman Creek to enjoy a manufactured lake, then in 1936 built a bathhouse/changing house for the public that would eventually use the lake. After the highway was built next to the lake, it silted and ruined the lake for public use. The CCC youths occupying the nearby Camp Growden used the lake during the construction of the bathhouse. However, when the Corps disbanded in 1942 the lake fell under disuse. Two years ago, the forest service removed the dam and re-routed Sherman creek to its original flow. Before, the Sherman Creek Lake had been a hazard to wildlife. Re-routing the stream enabled the fish population to return and thrive. This, in turn, encouraged anglers to visit the area.
This provided an area for travelers to rest, recuperate (there is a campground near the area as well), fish, and learn about the area. The Sherman Creek rescue project installed interpretive signs informing visitors about the dam and the CCC contributing to the forest. However, the only remnant of the CCC camp was the bathhouse, barely used, forgotten, and hidden by the growing forest over the years. To improve the visitor area, the bathhouse would have to be moved to a more accessible area.
Project Goals and Activities
This year’s Colville National Forest Passport in Time project focused on re-locating and restoring the CCC lake bathhouse/changing rooms. The new location was alongside the main highway going through the forest. The area would allow forest visitors to see the structure from the highway, then have the option to park and view the area up close. Interpretive signs are present explaining the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps. More interpretive signs are planned to explain the bathhouse and its history in relation to the CCC and the Colville National Forest. Places such as Growden Camp create an interactive experience for travelers, engaging them in local and national place history and immersing them in the area’s cultural context.
A week before the PIT volunteers arrived, the bathhouse was dismantled and moved down the road to a newer public use area by forest employees. The bathhouse was originally built on the shore of the CCC man-made lake. However, when workers removed the dam and the creek resumed its natural flow, the bathhouse was absorbed into the growing forest and began to sink into the creek bed. The structure was degrading from floods, infestations, general disuse and lack of upkeep. A corner of the building was damaged from a large fallen tree as well. It took a week of disassembling to extract the structure from the possession of the packrats and the mud. A map of the structure’s logs was created so that when the time came to restore the building it would be easier to reassemble. Reconstruction would begin in the next week when the first volunteers arrived.
The first week of PIT brought in three volunteers to assist with the restoration of the CCC bathhouse. Bev and Gordon Moog and Mark (could not find last name) have all worked with Steve Kramer on previous PIT projects. One volunteer failed to show up. Three to four volunteers would participate each week alongside five to six forest employees. The Heritage Crew division of the Supervising Office of the Colville National Forest would participate in this PIT project. Only a few pieces of the bathhouse still needed to be transported to the new site, however most of the remaining elements at the original site would need to be replaced. These pieces were too rotted to be structurally safe; however, they were still needed for comparison to fit the new pieces to the old.
The one story log building consisted of two rooms separated by a narrow closet, all with separate access doors. The base consisted of concrete supports around the outside walls and sunken logs that supported both inside walls. The CCC constructed the building from larch (a local tree) logs and cedar shingles. The concrete base was recreated at the new site and both inner wall support logs were reused in the reconstruction. Pieces that needed to be replaced were cut from nearby areas of the forest and shaped on site. Three of the four end base logs, one of the top frame long logs, and the roof needed replacing. The methods and tools utilized by the PIT crew emulated those that the CCC used to build the structure.
In the end, about eighty percent of the building was original. The first week was mainly measuring and fitting the new logs to the old and beginning to scrape the nailers (thin, young trees used to nail shingles to the roof and windows). Scraping the nailers discarded the loose bark, which in turn discouraged insect infestation, which had been a major factor of degradation at the original site. We shaped the logs in the way that the CCC had shaped the original logs. We employed sledgehammers to make all the logs fit together and ensure that every wall was secure and level.
In the original construction, a long thin board, called chinking, was between each log and the next. This was to fill the gaps and keep out the weather. However, after we had fitted all the horizontal logs together, the gaps disappeared. Therefore, there was no need for chinking, which resulted in a bit of confusion. It was later concluded that the logs warped over the years and therefore fit together better than the initial construction.
Bev and Gordon stayed on for the second week to fill in the positions left by two volunteers that did not show up. Two new volunteers did arrive, who had never experienced a Passport in Time project. The second half of the structure began with placing vertical support logs and nailing them in place. These shorter logs would support both of the twenty-four foot long roof logs. One of these logs was damaged by a fallen tree and had to be recreated. Each of the ten notches in the long roof log had to fit the vertical support logs perfectly or another tree would need cutting and shaped again. It fit perfectly the first time. Shake (a type of shingle) was placed in the windows and the gable ends formed on each end of the building.
For the final week of the PIT project, two new, inexperienced volunteers arrived to work alongside the heritage crew and Bev and Gordon. Again, two volunteers failed to arrive. The roof remained to be constructed, and a few of the windows needed shake. The new volunteers did not participate as much as the others had, though they talked of how they were going to tell their friends and family about this fantastic excursion and their contribution to the community. Age and physical abilities hindered participation in completing the roof. They appreciated simply being involved, though they could not help as much as others had. The next week the heritage crew continued to work on shaking (shingling) the roof and treating the wood against insect and rodent incursion. After PIT ended, it would be a couple of weeks before the remaining heritage crew could finish the bathhouse. On August 25, 2011, the CCC project was complete with the remaining ridge caps and shingles installed.
Each week my personal tasks ranged from lifting and shaping logs to engaging the visiting public with discussions on the importance of the project. The primary goal of PIT is giving volunteers the opportunity to work on archaeological and historic projects. The role of forest employees in a PIT project is facilitating the volunteers’ experience instead of constructing the project themselves. The first week (ending July 7, 2011) included the retrieval the remaining pieces of the bathhouse from its original site, transporting structural pieces to new site, and preparing for PIT volunteers. I set myself to the task of becoming familiar with project goals, PIT goals, and any methods that would be used to rebuild and restore the bathhouse. The first week of PIT (week ending in July 14, 2011), the volunteers and forest employees shaped new logs to replace unusable original logs, felled trees needed for new structural pieces, and set the foundation logs of the bathhouse. Forest employees including myself, assisted in any work related to reconstruction, and engaged visitors with a history of the project and the importance of preservation. In the second week of PIT (ending in July 21, 2001), the crew continued to stack and set logs in the body of the structure. The last week of PIT (ending in July 28, 2001) the crew set roof logs and supports, as well as shaking (shingling) the side windows and gabled ends. The last week of the project (ending in August 4, 2011) consisted of completing the roof and the cleanup of site. I had the privilege of shaking the East side of the roof. The last week of my employment (ending in August 11, 2011) with the Colville National Forest entailed orienting the new crew chief and a few surveying projects. On Monday, the crew (including myself) gave a tour of a large survey area that needed to be completed by the end of August 2011. The remaining three days entailed surveying for the National Forest, a power project, and a survey for a civilian land project. Each survey required an assessment of any potential environmental and cultural impacts, and a report detailing the area and findings.
How this contributes to historical preservation, community
Across the country, people visit National Forests and Parks to experience America. These places are a reflection of the nation’s history and culture. Preserved sites, such as Camp Growden Bathhouse, give cultural context that educates the public. Cultural contexts are the thoughts, opinions, feelings, attitudes, and way of life of a group of people as influenced by other people and past experiences. These sites are relevant to interpreting the past, seeing how things were done and seeing what can be done in the future. Preserving a tangible piece of history allows others to see how an event or experience contributed to an area’s cultural context. Travelers see these sites alongside the roads and usually stop to satisfy their curiosity. Restrooms are incentives as well; however, there is always interest in historical and cultural sites.
To the individual, historical preservation allows for the understanding of cultural context. Places such as Camp Growden show people that times of financial turmoil have been overcome. Other PIT projects have preserved older structures that show how past generations lived. Seeing how they lived is vital to understanding the present.
Preservation sites inspire a sense of community, bringing people together with the same history of place. Local areas appreciate pieces of history such as Growden camp to remind them of their history. Sites also educate travelers about local areas and often generate revenue. Preservation creates a sense of place with history and context. It shares a history of place with future generations and people outside of a particular culture.
On the national level, understanding the cultural context of areas across the country creates an interconnected view of history. This understanding creates a sense of community at the national level. Involving volunteers from varying communities and backgrounds educates the public in a unique, personal way.
Conclusions and observations
The Passport in Time project enables historical preservation archaeologists to educate the public in a unique and personal way, while restoring a vital historical building. Volunteers contribute thousands of hours a year towards preservation and in return gain a sense of contribution in saving pieces of history. Preserving the CCC bathhouse specifically provided the Colville National Forest and surrounding communities with a reminder of the area’s creation.
Individuals visiting the area will be able to see a piece of the forest’s history and understand the cultural context of the area today. The community around the Colville Forest gains a preserved piece of their origins that will educate future generations and allow for a sense of community between them, enhanced by that cultural context.
Each week of the PIT project, a volunteer that had signed up failed to show up and participate. It is apparent that overcoming the lack of involvement is an obstacle in preservation. Overall, participation and cultural understanding solves the problem of relating the importance of preservation to the public. Personal experience provides context and insight that enlightens a volunteer’s understanding and appreciation for historical sites and enforces the idea that the preservation of these places is essential.
Learning to explain the importance of historical preservation and the importance of the CCC bathhouse fortified the ideals taught in academia. Ideally, historical preservation preserves national and local cultural identities for communities and for future individuals. Contributing to the preservation of the cultural identity of depression era CCC workers and the Coville National Forest area through this PIT project enforced the ideals taught in classes. Experiencing how preservation contributes to a community enriched my previous knowledge of the necessity of historical preservation.
Understanding the history and the people involved in projects like the CCC bathhouse provides insight as to why this building is vital to preservation. The Civilian Conservation Corps made parks and forests accessible to the public and provided essential jobs to a struggling generation. The CCC created a continuing plan for the conservation of America’s natural resources in the National Parks and Forests. The Growden bathhouse stands as a reminder for that time of hardship and the people that conquered a turbulent time.
-references available upon request and there is more to come!