Almost every one of my favorite parks and lodges around the country was either built by, or greatly improved by, the Civilian Conservation Corps. Were I, by some bizarre accident of governance, ever to get the authority to do so, I would reactivate them today. It is the kind of program we desperately need.
And it was desperately needed in 1933, when the first young, unmarried, and out of work men were hired by the federal government to build conservation projects and develop natural resources on lands owned by federal, state, or local governments.
For $35 a month, $25 of which they had to send home to their parents, millions of malnourished and undereducated young men between 18 and 25 planted billions of trees and built almost 1,000 parks, as they became physically fit and learned employable skills. One has only to look at the wonderful masonry in the Starved Rock and Pere Marquette lodges to see how well they did.
One of the places where they lived and trained, as you probably know, was Camp McDowell, a facility built for more than 200 men in what is today the McDowell Grove Forest Preserve. Using rock they quarried from the northerly section of Pioneer Park, they built projects in almost every park in this area.
In McDowell itself, among other things, they built up an island in the DuPage River, constructed foot bridges to it and widened the river to the west into Abbott Bay, a charming and popular spot in which families could paddle around. In a fit of misguided environmental fervor, both the island and Abbott Bay were recently destroyed as part of the “cleanup” of some thorium left over from making lamp mantles that had become buried deep in river sediments. Although they justify the action with volumes of authoritative ecospeak, the lesson to be learned is that simple people won’t be allowed enjoy the things they like about their parks if they don’t share the stark vision of the environmental purists.
The CCC left the park in 1938. The army took over Camp McDowell in 1942 as a top secret radar school where the students learned using the latest technology, including some very neat water-cooled vacuum tubes. Although the barracks, garages, shops, etc. have long been removed, the army still has responsibility for any chemical contamination that might still be there. Accordingly, the Army Corps of Engineers has, for many years, been testing the soil and water for a wide variety of elements and compounds.
The results and their recommendations were recently delivered to the Nichols Library, where they may be found in the reference section. Basically, the Army Corps found nothing to be concerned about, and their final recommendation is that no further work needs to or should be done.
There was a tiny amount of degreasing solvent in the water from an old hand pump well, but that appears to have originated somewhere off site, and that well is now sealed.
Still, the government is the government and you should be aware that we the public now have until Sept. 26, 2013 to read the reports, which are on several CD roms, and comment upon the recommendation to take no further action. Comments can be sent to Andrew.B.Evans@usace.mil He is Technical Manager at the USACE in Louisville, Ky.
Should you have questions, or wish to submit your comments in person, the Army Corps and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency are jointly holding a public meeting at 6 pm on Wednesday, Sept. 11, at the 95th Street Library. The public will have plenty of opportunity to voice any concerns. Unfortunately, neither agency has the money or the authority to restore the picnic island or Abbott Bay.