"Their work made Deception Pass the iconic gem that hosts two million visitors a year -- two million individuals appreciating the opportunity created and developed by the men of the CCC, one stone, one log, and one shovel full at a time." -Jack Hartt
Of the things I enjoy, three of them are history, vintage photos and Deception Pass State Park. How fortunate to find a newly published book that satisfies all three delights. And satisfy it does. At over 300 pages, with more than 400 illustrations, this is a major accomplishment by the authors Jack Hartt and Sam Wotipka. This is more than a picture book. It presents a brief history of the Washington State Park system and the establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Most importantly, the photos introduce us to the men of the CCC's as they were building Deception Pass State Park in the 1930's.
I have had the privilege of meeting the authors Jack Hartt, Park Manager and Sam Wotipka who was a Park Interpretive Intern through the Americorps program. They were our hosts for the First Day Hike at Deception Pass this past New Year's Day.
"He had a little smile on his face after being issued clothing and walking down the 'shot line.' But that night, lying in a strange bed, in a rugged cabin shared with dozens of strangers, and thousands of miles from home and mom, this boy of seventeen or eighteen may have shed a few tears." -Page 272As the book's title reveals, the men of the CCC's and their work at Deception Pass are the primary subjects. Using little more than bare hands, this 4,134 acre park was carved out of solid rock and timber and wilderness. The amazing collection of photos reveals how this was done. The book is a moving and respectful tribute to these men, their labors and their legacy.
Remember, this was a stimulus program that provided jobs during the Great Depression. The workers were paid $30 a month plus meals, housing, clothing and healthcare. They were required to send most of their salary home to family. Up to 300,000 men worked in conservation projects across the US at any one time. The products of their labors are their gifts to us.
"Wherever you go in Deception Pass, you will see the evidence of the CCC. Their structures were built to fit the environment, to look like they belong here. Most of what they built was created from locally available materials: wood and stone. Marvel at the quality of their construction: from the precise angles in joining logs in buildings, to the various patterns incorporated into stonework, to the detailed design in a door handle or window frame." -Page 6The first time I visited the park as an adult, I recall being both amazed and proud of how beautiful the structures were. These buildings are not typical government fare, modest, cookie-cutter and utilitarian. These are splendid structures built by skilled craftsmen. The rustic "parkitecture" style was drawn from the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th Century. While most of the CCC's were unskilled workers, they were trained and guided by skilled tradesmen from local communities. Although not CCC enrollees, these tradesmen were paid by the program and that helped sustain their families during the Depression.
What was originally a bath house for swimmers is now the CCC Interpretive Center at Bowman Bay (left photo above). It seems the bay is too cold for swimming, so the bath house didn't get much use. Repurposing it to honor the CCC's turned it into one of the focal points of the park. Then, upgrading this small museum was another of Sam Wotipka's projects. The visitor will get a good sense of camp life and the flavor of the period. A video takes you back to the time and place during construction of the park. If you find it open, don't pass it up.
The buildings have lasted eighty years, a testament to their quality. But nothing lasts forever, and even these structures require some ongoing maintenance (right photo). This kitchen shelter at Bowman Bay is being restored with funding from the Deception Pass Park Foundation. When finished, it will be historically accurate to the CCC period. It will continue to serve park visitors for several more decades.
"Planners even considered the safety and circulation of visitors through the south side of the park by building an underpass beneath Highway 20 so that each visitor who entered the park at the main entrance could visit every part of the park without having to face the traffic of the highway. Most drivers today do not even know this exists, yet thousands of cars drive over it every day." -Page 218, Page 99Built by the CCC's, this archway which crosses under Highway 20 serves as a portal to the Discovery Trail, one of the access points for exploring the Goose Rock area. This has become one of my favorite places in the park. A tweet from Sam Wotipka via @WAStatePks put me on a course through this gateway to find the wild rhododendrons of Deception Pass. After years of searching, finally seeing these rare and beautiful shrubs in bloom satisfied one of my long term quests.
The commemorative sign in the photo honors John Tursi, to whom the book is dedicated. He was one of the CCC workers who built the archway. Since those times, he has lived in Anacortes and has been a dedicated supporter of the park. "John's Grove," a forest garden is located just beyond the underpass.
The network of trails we use to explore the park is another legacy of the CCC's. Next time you 're on the Bowman-Rosario or the North Beach Trail, take note of the terrain around you. Appreciate the labor that was required to cut these pathways along solid rock cliffs and to build bridges over steep ravines. Imagine constructing a stone wall along the edge of a precipice. Now suppose that was your assignment for the day.
"Another effort from President Roosevelt to get the economy jump started was a program called the Works Progress Administration, ...committed to building the nation's infrastructure of highways, dams and other critical components. Funding was found through this program to finally help build a bridge connecting Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, giving direct vehicle access to Whidbey Island for the first time." -Page 5While the WPA built the bridge, it was the men of the Civilian Conservation Corps that helped build the highway approaches to the bridge. I have read that the Deception Pass Bridge is one of the most photographed structures in the State of Washington. For me, it is one of the special treats when visiting the park. It is a beautiful thing to behold and thrill to drive or walk across.
Two Hands and a Shovel is available at Amazon. The procedes from sale of the book go directly to the Deception Pass Park Foundation. The mission of the Foundation is protecting the park and educating park visitors. Their work includes preserving the beautiful, skillfully crafted structures given to us by the CCC's. I am excited about one of their future projects, a new Interpretive Center at Rosario Beach.
It has been such a pleasure browsing through these vintage photos, reading the captions and relating them to my own experiences. Finding familiar spots as they looked eighty years ago has allowed me to explore the park in a new way. I have been fascinated by all the trivia and details about the creation of the park. This is not a book to read once, then put away on the shelf. It's a book to return to over and over, always to discover something new, just like the park itself. I recommend the book highly and encourage its purchase. You will not be disappointed.
Cover photo used by permission