By: Rachel Sicheneder
With summer drawing to a close my crew and I ventured out to Teddy Roosevelt National Park for a ten day spike. The last day of the trip, barred from spraying herbicide by a misting rain, our project host took us on a tour of the north unit of the park. In the middle of the 14 mile driving loop we stopped and ran through the rain to a small lean-to perched on the edge of an impressive vista. Like so many structures in state and national parks I recognized the cut stone and well-built masonry of the CCCs. Standing dry beneath the roof and looking out into the mist I let my mind wander, appreciating the view in front of me and how it gave me a sense of place in the world and in history.
Teddy Roosevelt, the namesake of the park, was the pioneering president for the environmental movement. Because of his time spent in the North Dakota Badlands, where I now stood, he started a national campaign to preserve wild places in the U.S. Along with raising public concern he also created the Forest Service and a dozen national parks throughout the country. His push for environmental preservation served as the foundation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, created some thirty years later, by his predecessor of the same last name, Franklin Roosevelt. Millions of young men, my grandfather included, built structures like the one I now stood in. Most of them still stand today, ready for the next generation of the Corps to take shelter.
As my mind continued to wander, I began to draw new connections to Conservation Corps and my family. For my grandfather, the Corps provided an opportunity to travel and see parts of Minnesota and the world he would never have been able to see in the midst of the Depression. Because of that experience he made a point to travel with his family as well. My father still tells tales of his family’s road trips to northern Minnesota and across the country. As a result of those road trips my grandfather introduced my father to the wilderness and as a result of that, my father passed his thinking onto me, leading me to take a job with the Corps. Therefore, in a circuitous way, my environmental focus can be traced back to the original CCCs and even Teddy Roosevelt himself.
People generally think of history as following a linear pattern, but standing on the edge of a bluff in North Dakota, I was able to see it as circular; from Teddy Roosevelt, to my grandfather, to my crew and I. I don’t know where my family or I would be if my grandfather had not joined the Cs. But I do know that generations of travelers and environmentalists have benefitted from what started as a works program to improve a lagging economy. My family is one of many, throughout the years the Corps has touched millions inspiring families and generations to get out and enjoy the world around them.