Prolific. How else can one characterize the body of work by Wisconsin author, storyteller and historian Jerry Apps? He’s authored nearly 50 books, many published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. He offered me a seat next to him April 7 in the Marathon County Historical Society Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin. He was releasing his latest work, “The Civilian Conservation Corps in Wisconsin: Nature’s Army at Work.”
As folks were waiting to have Apps autograph newly purchased books, I had a moment to ask the author a few questions. I wanted his opinion as to if he felt such a program is needed today.
His reaction was immediate.
“There are a lot of lost souls out there today,” he said.
Apps advocates for the value of work. After studying the history of the CCC, he said he believes it would benefit many to have a similar program in place today. He related it to what he sees on his own woodland property in Wisconsin’s Waushara County. His grandkids and their friends come to help establish tree seedlings each spring. Although it may not always be pleasant work in perfect conditions, the kids feel a great sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. He said he’s confident they will always be able to look at the woods and remember that they contributed to the health and wellbeing of it.
A member of the audience, 101 years of age, recalled his duties planting trees and taking turns in the camp kitchen at the CCC camp in northern Wisconsin. That’s where he lived and worked as a young man.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president Nov. 8, 1932, in a landslide victory against Herbert Hoover. The United States was reeling from the effects of the Great Depression. What has been lost through time is that the United States was also reeling from the destruction of natural resources as a result of unbridled harvest of timber from many areas of the country – most notably Wisconsin. Apps said commercial loggers clear-cut the northern forest land. Many of them moved on when the trees were removed, leaving behind a land naked except for the stumps and gulleys that soon formed.
Apps calls it a time of economic and environmental calamity. Roosevelt proposed March 9, 1933, the Emergency Conservation Work Program. It would later become known as the Civilian Conservation Corps. The “lost souls” of the era were given a ray of hope. Unemployed men registered in droves to participate. It was essentially a peacetime army sent to battle the destruction and erosion of our natural resources.
Apps describes in his book the major projects of CCC workers as reforestation, soil conservation, fish-hatchery development, forest-fire control, and state and national park development. The accomplishments of the program are evident today in many of Wisconsin’s state parks. A visit to the Eau Claire Dells State Park in eastern Marathon County is a glowing example. A high bridge extending over the Eau Claire River was built by the CCC along with hiking trails and a developed swimming beach at the park.
Mess-hall life was a big part of the CCC experience for workers. A well-fed army was an effective one and the CCC workers were indeed well-nourished.
Apps showed a slide of a menu from Camp Nine Mile in Eagle River, Wisconsin.
- English celery
- roast turkey
- sage dressing
- giblet gravy
- Virginia baked ham
- mashed potatoes
- sweet potatoes
- creamed peas
- shrimp salad
- Parker House rolls
- mincemeat pie
- pumpkin pie
- French pastry
- mixed fruit
- mixed candy
- ice cream
The CCC program was not without critics. One notable example was that of the then-fiercely conservative Chicago Tribune, a violently anti-New Deal newspaper that initially opposed the CCC as a handout program. Surprisingly the paper’s opposition faded as benefits began to be apparent. They eventually called the CCC one of the best projects of the Roosevelt’s administration.
Although it was never the goal of the program to run indefinitely, its end was hastened by the bombing Dec. 7, 1941, of Pearl Harbor. The young men who signed up for the CCC were the same men being whisked away to serve their country in World War II. The CCC program was defunded in 1942. The lost souls of the era who found purpose through working to repair the unintended abuses of natural resources would now find purpose defending their country in war.
Apps is an author and historian whose works are directly connected to rural issues.
“I consider myself to be an environmental writer,” he said to the packed crowd at the Marathon County Historical Museum.
His first book, written in 1969 and published in 1970, includes an introduction by Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, who Apps said he’s proud to have known.
Visit www.jerryapps.com for more information.