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Celebrating the Upton legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps 90 years after its founding

Ellen Arnold and William Johnson, two of the original founders of the Friends of Upton State Forest, display a flag commemorating the 90-year anniversary of the CCC’s founding. Courtesy photo

By Linda Chuss
Younger people today may not know what the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was or the role in played in Upton, “but they respond with interest when they learn about it,” said Ellen Arnold, co-founder of the Friends of Upton State Forest which includes the CCC “Camp SP25.”
The Friends group formed in 2005 out of concern for the preservation of the park’s historic CCC structures. The group is responsible for the site’s inclusion on the list of Massachusetts’ Most Endangered Historic Resource. 
Arnold said, “My interest began as a child in New Hampshire near Bear Brook State Park, which was built by the CCC. I spent many happy hours there. My husband and I moved to a home that abuts Upton State Forest, and now I welcome the opportunity to share the CCC legacy and give back to the park.”
The CCC program was established by President Franklin Roosevelt in March 1933 as part of the New Deal Program to create jobs for young men whose families were on welfare and who could not find work during the Great Depression. The jobless rate was 25% and this was a way to provide “relief of unemployment through the performance of useful public work,” specifically to teach them a lifelong skill. 
The national program focused on forest projects that addressed environmental issues, like erosion and fires that stemmed from overharvesting of trees. It also concentrated on wildlife management, insect pest control, and emergency work, most notably providing assistance after the floods of 1936 and the hurricane of 1938. 
The CCC camps were supervised by U.S. Army Reserves. Day programs were supervised by the National Park Service or the U.S. Forestry Service. 
In its nearly 10 years of existence (1933-1942), three million CCC enrollees worked across all states. They built nearly 100,000 miles of fire roads; planted 3 billion trees; constructed trails and shelters in over 800 parks, including Upton State Forest; and helped develop nascent ski areas, including nearby Stowe and Cannon. They also constructed dams like the one at Upton State Forest which created the Dean Pond impoundment. They also created paths and trails like Loop and Park Roads.
At its peak in Massachusetts, the CCC had a total of 51 camps that enrolled 10,000 men. The men were paid $30 each month, of which they were required to send $25 home to their family.
One enrollee was the late Frank Evans, who grew up near the Upton camp. In an interview with National Park Service Ranger Chuck Arning, as part of “Along the Blackstone, Episode 66,” a 2009 program that focused on the CCC and was produced by the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission, Evans said, ”I tried to buy a job. I couldn’t even buy it. Depression was I planned on the Cs.” He enrolled for two and a half years and served as a heavy equipment operator, a profession in which he worked for 42 years. 
At the close of that NPS program, Arning said, “We need to thank the Friends of the Upton State Forest. Through their hard work and preservation, it was them that allowed these stories to be preserved and for them to go into our memory bank.” 
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In Upton, the crew constructed 15 buildings including sleeping barracks and a mess hall, plus the headquarters and an infirmary which remain standing today. Enrollees built picnic areas, made water holes for firefighting, and planted 230,000 trees. They also helped beyond the camp, such as rescuing a girl who fell through the ice at Mill Pond.
After the country entered World War II, the CCC program ended in 1942. Since then, while much of their work has endured, most camp structures have not. In Upton, the headquarters is one of just a few still standing in the country, thanks to the advocacy and dedication of the Friends group in cooperation with the Department of Conservation and Recreation. 
 “I am especially proud that, in 2014, the CCC Camp and a corridor of associated resources, achieved National Register of Historic Places status,” said Arnold.
To see the historic structures in person, visit Upton State Forest, 205 Westboro Road, daily between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. For more information about the Upton site or to join the Friends, visit