Kentucky’s Cumberland Falls State Park played host to the 2007 national reunion of the National Association of Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni (NACCCA) on September 27th, 28th and 29th. Approximately 110 registrants attended the event and the headcount at the closing banquet seemed to be higher still. Park Naturalist Brett Smitley estimated that of the total in attendance, 70 were former CCC enrollees. Smitley was the primary organizer of the event and his hard work paid off in the form of a satisfying gathering for these former “soil soldiers” and “tree troopers” whose numbers grow thinner with every passing day. (Estimates state that about 1,000 World War II veterans die every day. To place this figure in context, consider the fact that many CCC enrollees were 17 to 20 years of age in 1933 – nine years before the U.S. entered the war.)
Cumberland Falls hosts an annual reunion for local CCC veterans, but this national reunion is the last major gathering before next year’s 75th anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the Civilian Conservation Corps, a huge work relief program that put some 3 million young men to work in America’s forests, fields and parks between 1933 and 1942. NACCCA holds a national reunion every fall. Dallas played host in 2006, Rapid City hosted the reunion in 2005 and Phoenix was the host city in 2004.
During the reunion, visitors enjoyed fascinating presentations by Forest Service personnel who described archeological work done at the sites of a number of former CCC camps in Kentucky. Bill Jamerson presented his documentary film on CCC life in Michigan and entertained those gathered with his humorous folks songs describing life as it was in the CCC camps. An authentic bluegrass band, Ballard Ford, provided the entertainment for the big banquet the final night of the reunion.
The reunion setting could not have been more fitting. The CCC constructed numerous improvements in the Cumberland Falls area, including Dupont Lodge and hiking trails that visitors continue to enjoy today. On the CCC Memorial Trail, a careful hiker will find one of the concrete dynamite storage boxes the CCC enrollees placed in the side of a rock outcropping and rest on a well-placed stone bench near the end of the hike.
With former enrollees now in their 80s and 90s, the opportunity for mass gatherings of former CCC boys is quickly fading. Hopefully in the future these events will begin to attract a larger number of historians and students of forest, conservation and recreation history as well as the descendants – sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters - of CCC enrollees, who will gather yearly, not so much as a form of reunion but as a means of honoring the work of the largest peacetime mobilization this nation has ever seen.