A significant amount of Michigan’s public forests today owe their existence to the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. Known as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” CCC enrollees played a crucial role in reforestation efforts throughout the country during the Great Depression, and nowhere was the impact of their work more significant than in Michigan. Between 1933 and 1942, CCC workers in Michigan planted 485 million trees, more than were planted in any other state.
These plantings by the CCC took place on both state and federal land, but much of it occurred on the five national forests that existed in Michigan by the late 1930s: the Ottawa, Hiawatha and Marquette forests in the Upper Peninsula, and the Manistee and Huron forests to the south (the Marquette was later consolidated with the Hiawatha in 1962, and the two forests in the Lower Peninsula were combined administratively in 1955 to form the Huron-Manistee).
Michigan’s National Forests in 1941.
Michigan’s massive reforestation effort during the 1930s would not have been possible without the work of tree nurseries administered by the Forest Service. Most of the state’s planting stock was provided by four USFS nursery operations: the Beal Nursery in East Tawas, the Wyman Nursery in Manistique, the Chittenden Nursery in Wellston, and the Toumey Nursery in Watersmeet. By 1941 these nurseries were providing an average of 97 million seedlings each year for Michigan’s national forests.
The visual history of these nurseries is documented in four new image galleries recently added to the FHS website. With more than 150 historic photos, the galleries showcase the important work behind the reforestation efforts which transformed Michigan’s landscape. Continue below to view the photos in each gallery and to learn more about the history of each nursery.
Joseph Sparks, official artist for Huron National Forest, sketching CCC boys at Beal Nursery, 1934.
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Eighty years ago, Rudy Wendelin was a young artist fresh out of the University of Kansas School of Architecture struggling like many others to find work during the Great Depression. Relief came in 1933 when he applied for a job in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, under the new Civilian Conservation program launched that same year. Wendelin got the job, a position as a draftsman with Region 9 of the U.S. Forest Service, and immediately began turning out various artwork, signs, displays, publications, architectural drawings, and much more for the agency. By 1936 the local newspapers were referring to him as “the Ding Darling of the United States [Forest] Service” after the famed cartoonist Jay Darling. Within four years Wendelin would be promoted to the Forest Service’s national office in Washington, DC, and go on to become well known as the primary artist and “caretaker” of Smokey Bear. His time in Milwaukee working on CCC projects, though, was a crucial step towards this future career success.
During his final year working for Region 9, Wendelin drew a series of sketches depicting the forestry work of the CCC that were used in an instructional pamphlet given to enrollees. Woodsmanship for the Civilian Conservation Corps, published annually from 1937 to 1941, served as a guide to using various tools, basic first-aid, poisonous plants and insects, and an introduction to conservation and forestry. Some of the artwork was also used in other CCC materials, like recruitment flyers. The cover image captures the spirit of the CCC then and the perception of it today—the strapping young man made strong from the work and smiling with gratitude for the opportunity.
“The mountains and forests of this country may seem a wilderness to those of the Civilian Conservation Corps who come from the cities and farms,” read the pamphlet’s text. “Experience in the C.C.C. . . . will, however, call for what is known as ‘Woodsmanship’ – the ability to live and work safely, conduct yourself in accordance with your surroundings, and adapt yourself to your environment. No one can be taught woodsmanship out of a book, but here are a few traits of a good woodsman.”
View selections of Wendelin’s CCC art from Woodsmanship below, and consult the Rudolph Wendelin Papers in the FHS archives for further information.
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