Volunteers Give New Life to a Historic Camp Dormant for Decades
On May 6th, SCA teamed up with national supporter Domtar to restore a historic mess hall constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps that has stood dormant for decades — helping to bring to life the rich history of North Carolina’s most visited state park.
Since 2012, Domtar has partnered with SCA to support SCA’s youth conservation crews in cities across the country, as well as local restoration projects in communities where Domtar employees live and work. Young SCA crew leaders from New York City and Oakland, soon to gear up for a summer of urban programming, were excited to travel to North Carolina to help facilitate the project at Umstead State Park in Raleigh.
“I feel like I’m at summer camp,” said NYC leader Gabe Cummings of the 5600-acre park with its lakes, forests, and cabins. “This isn’t the kind of place we had growing up in Jersey City.”
Although Umstead State Park, sitting just outside the state capital, sees more visitors than state parks in the Appalachians or in the Outer Banks, it remains underfunded and understaffed to handle its 1.8 million annual visitors. The Umstead Coalition, a volunteer organization headed by Jean Spooner, helps to raise funds for the park and spearhead special projects — including the restoration of 106 historic cabins built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA).
The Sycamore Mess Hall, a jewel in the group camp at the edge of Sycamore Lake, once provided a beautiful space for campers to come together in a wood-beamed hall with a grand stone fireplace and benches and tables all made from locally milled pine. However, the building had fallen into disrepair and narrowly escaped demolition, sitting abandoned for decades until volunteers returned to help restore it. Now, with enough helping hands, the Umstead Coalition hopes to reopen the space as a venue for weddings, family gatherings, and other park events — bringing much-needed revenue to the park while allowing visitors to relive the history of the original 1930s camp.
Guided by SCA crew leaders, 40 Domtar employee volunteers and family members set out to refurbish the ceilings of the old kitchen and restore the original furnishings of the dining hall by sanding and staining pine tables and benches to shine like new. “Imagine your grandmother wearing her best silk stockings sitting on one of these benches,” said Jean Spooner of the Umstead Coalition. “That’s how perfect and beautiful we want this finished space to be.”
Domtar volunteers were eager to take on the challenge, and learn more about their local park. “My husband and I used to go camping a lot before we had the girls,” said Suzette Kim, volunteering with her husband and three daughters. “But now that they’re getting bigger, we’ve been meaning to go again. Knowing that this great park is right here gives us a great reason to start!”
“When Liz Titus Putnam founded the Student Conservation Association, she took the Civilian Conservation Corps as her inspiration,” said SCA Marketing & Events Manager Ann Pedtke. “It’s great for the next generation of conservationists to see the work accomplished by young people in parks 80 years ago, and know that their work today can carry on the legacy of these spectacular park spaces.”
Saturday’s event followed successful partnership projects with Domtar in Plymouth, North Carolina and Kamloops, British Columbia. SCA will team up with Domtar again this summer to restore a local community center in Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania. Big thanks to Domtar for their continuing support of SCA programs across the country!
Read more about Domtar’s partnership with SCA.