Carl McLaughlin: Kanawha State Forest offers long legacy of conservation
In 1938 before Kanawha State forest opened to the public, Company 2599 of the Civilian Conservation Corps had transferred into this nearly 7,000-acre tract of land. Camp Kanawha, S-76, was established at the mouth of Shrewsbury Hollow (the location of the state forest’s swimming pool today). The primary mission, according to State Forester Dan B. Griffin, was to provide the public with, “some of the finest recreation to be found within the state.”
The first assignment completed by the nearly 200 CCC enrollees was the removal of all traces of past mining activities that had begun in the 1880’s. Our CCC’s — like others throughout our nation — were quickly engaged in fighting forest fires. Also, the company planned and implemented erosion and flood control projects. Wildlife was re-introduced to the forest, and a major accomplishment was the reforesting of the forest.
After completing their CCC enrollment, most enrollees enlisted in the U.S. military and served in World War II. When these young men came home from the war, they took their place in our nation’s Greatest Generation. As part of the Greatest Generation, our CCC alumni volunteered for more service to Kanawha State Forest.
Several CCC alumni formed an informal Tuesday Morning Work Group in early 1989 and with other friends of the forest, they all volunteered their skills, their time, and their money to help “rejuvenate” Kanawha State Forest. In November 1989, this CCC alumni-led group helped organize the Kanawha State Forest Foundation.
By September 1994 with the Alumni CCC group in the forefront, Foundation members had volunteered nearly 8,000 work hours. In addition, significant solicitations of funds had been obtained for forest improvements. Perhaps the most memorial project was the rehabilitation of the original chestnut wood CCC-built picnic shelters No. 1 and No. 2 directly across from Ellison Pond. These shelters had been encompassed by the woods and put out of service.
Today, Kanawha State Forest is being encircled by mountaintop removal sites with none more threatening than KD No. 2 of Keystone Industries. Hike or bike to the highest points on some of our forest trails today and you will see the scarring of our mountains that have long been a source of pride to our citizens. KD No. 2 will be providing more scarring. That pride is being lost, along with the freedom to enter our public state forests and parks and use them free from restrictions that are being imposed to benefit private interests like Keystone Industries.
In 1933 just at the beginning of the Federal CCC Movement, the Conservation Commission of West Virginia began the “active development of natural scenic resources” in regard to outdoor recreation. State forests and parks were to “preserve the fineness and beauty of nature and make it easily available to all the people,” according to the 1938 West Virginia Blue Book.
Our Division of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Protection and Division of Forestry no longer seem to share these early values. These values formed the blueprints for the work of the CCC. The CCC left our nation a monumental legacy. Today the legacy has been tarnished, but not destroyed like many of our mountains. What can we do to rekindle that early spirit of our faithful CCC Boys gazing across a mountain vista in awe of the beauty of nature as they labored to restore all of our natural resources: our majestic, forested mountains; our lush valleys; and our unspoiled streams?
Carl McLaughlin, of Charleston, is a friend and user of Kanawha State Forest.