16 January 2009

CCC Projects of the 1930s Provide Long-term Benefits to Valentine Refuge

Projects completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid-1930s are still providing benefits at Valentine National Wildlife Refuge in the sand hills of Nebraska.

When a CCC camp was started in Cherry county during the depression of the 1930s, the men given jobs to improve the refuge started many projects to establish this refuge. Crews were also active at 31 camps at other refuges.

Valentine migratory bird refuge was created by an executive order of August 4, 1935. CCC camp No. 753 with 200 men, was active in April 1835, as approximately 60,000 acres of ranch-land was being purchased - using Duck Stamp funds - to establish and develop the refuge. Additional acreage was later added to create a refuge with nearly 70,000 acres, including many of the prominent lakes of the region and property that had been part of the renowned Hackberry Hunt Club and other sportsman clubs where numerous shootists gathered to celebrate and harvest waterfowl and other game birds abundant about the lakes.

Particular projects, mentioned in news of the mid-1930s, were:

  • "The CCC boys have collected more than a ton of flower, grass and other seeds and have sown 215 acres to cover and food plants. In addition, more than two million trees and shrubs have been moved and planted in strategic spots.
  • "Forty-five miles of truck trail make points within the refuge easier of access.
  • "New fencing around nesting areas prevents livestock from damaging both the nests and cover.
  • "New fencing extends more than 100 miles in and around this refuge in the Nebraska sandhills and the boys have marked 183 miles of the boundary.
  • "Eighteen miles of telephone line have been completed and 10 wells, including pumps and pump houses, are now available for use.
  • "Fire fighting for which the CCC boys must be ready, has been facilitated by 152 miles of fire breaks."
  • "Excavation, channel clearing, construction of cattle guards and special gates along the refuge boundaries are some of the additional activities that have employed the time of the camp.

"Such a record, coupled with the achievements is noteworthy of special praise. Migratory and nesting waterfowl, as well as other wildlife at Valentine are finding the improved area increasingly attractive," said Dr. Gabrielson, chief of the U.S. Biological Survey. "Emergency funds for acquiring and developing this and other areas and the help of the CCC have helped advance the wildlife restoration program that only 5 years ago was but a dream."

"CCC boys developing the Valentine Lakes Migratory Waterfowl Refuge in Cherry county, Nebraska, are making an invaluable contribution to the national wildlife restoration program," said Gabrielson in an April 1, 1938 article in the Valentine Republican. "His congratulations to the camp personnel came on the fifth anniversary of the CCC."

CCC Camp No. 753 was phased out in December 1936, but some additional work was done by men that were part of the Works Progress Administration.

Work done by the CCC crews has continued to provide benefits for the refuge through the subsequent decades.

"We are still using some of the buildings the CCC constructed including the refuge office at Hackberry Lake, a storage shed, barn, and residences," said Mark Lindvall, current manager of Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. "A few of the water control structures are still in use, and assist with water management for birds" and to help maintain the fisheries resource.

"The boundary fence built by the CCC secured much of the refuge," Lindvall said. "Some of the fence built is still used although much has been repaired or replaced."

Funding current CCC-type projects would be beneficial to the refuge.

"We have some projects that we could do, such as control of invasive plants, that would benefit long term management," Lindvall said.

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