By Rose Ann Smythe
Special to the Rappahannock News
Eighty years ago, the Civilian Conservation Corps was in full swing across the country, employing over 2.5 million men in its nine-year history. Here in Virginia, there were 80-plus camps that employed more than 107,000 men.
Up in the Blue Ridge, there were 10 CCC camps that were within or adjacent to what was to become the Shenandoah National Park. The first CCC camp in a national park, NP-1, was at Skyland. NP-2 was at Big Meadows. Up to a thousand men at a time worked in these 10 camps. Hastily built camp facilities housed and fed the 10,000 workers who built the Skyline Drive, and planted trees and shrubs to return grazing land back to forest, removed the fire hazard of dead chestnut trees, improved hiking and horse trails and built campgrounds, picnic areas and facilities for visitors.
NP-10 was Sexton Camp, located at what is now called Pinnacles, near milepost 37 of Skyline Drive. The original barracks-style building survives today as the Shenandoah National Park Pinnacles Research Station — the only original barracks building that survives, because it has been in constant use for more than 80 years. This building is in dire need of repair to continue its service as housing and workspace for researchers and volunteers.
More than 700 people a year use the Pinnacles building to conduct research and other work essential to the park. This includes the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, which trains here its trail maintenance volunteers, who help maintain the 101 miles of Appalachian Trail within the park and the 400 miles of side trails.
“We really are dependent on volunteers, particularly for a lot of our trail work,” said Jim Northup, superintendent of Shenandoah National Park. “Having a place where they can stay and have a hot meal in the evening after working out on the trails is really important.”
The research done year-round at Pinnacles, Northup added, “is really valuable to us in terms of understanding the park and the stewardship responsibilities we have.”
The Shenandoah National Park Trust, SNP’s official philanthropic partner, began financing the $150,000 renovation project last year by providing the funds to begin work on the foundation and replacing footers. All work is being done in an effort to maintain the outward appearance of the building as it was in 1935. The building improvements will include new flooring, appliances and furniture, repairing stairs and deteriorated areas, and painting inside and out.
“One of the key features of this project is restoring the 35 original windows is the building,” said Susan Sherman, SNPT’s president. “Because of the historic nature of this building, the park is very keen on preserving these features. The restoration of the windows has actually gotten us into an exciting partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“The NTHP administers an apprenticeship program for young adults called HOPE, which stands for Hands-On Preservation Experience,” Sherman added. “They recognize that historic preservation is sort of a trade that has skills that are being lost, so the program is designed to teach some of those skills to a new generation.”
The National Trust for Historic Preservation also provided a mini-grant to help SNPT launch its fundraising effort for the Pinnacles project.
“National parks tell the story of who we are as Americans,” Sherman said. “There is a backlog of maintenance and repair projects that are just waiting to happen. In budgeting where our philanthropy will be directed, SNP leadership identifies their highest priorities. Pinnacles has been at the top of that list for quite some time.”
“The Trust’s relationship with the park and the work they do for the park is absolutely invaluable,” Northup said. “It’s making it possible for us to do things that we simply would not be able to do with our base appropriations.”
Susan and Andrew Vinisky provided a leadership gift to get the fundraising started, and this year the Perry Foundation issued a challenge grant of $37,400 to be awarded if the Trust can acquire a matching amount in donations.
To date, the Trust is seeking an additional $80,000 to meet their budget goal of $150,000 toward this effort. Those interested in contributing to the Pinnacles restoration project can make online donations at snptrust.org. Checks also can be sent directly to Shenandoah National Park Trust at 414 E. Market St., Suite A, Charlottesville, VA 22902.
To learn more about the CCC in Shenandoah, visitors can stop by the Byrd Visitor Center at Big Meadows to see the interactive exhibit, “Within a Day’s Drive of Millions.” Also playing at the Byrd Visitor Center is the film “The CCC Boys.”