WHITEWATER STATE PARK – The Civilian Conservation Corps first set up shop in this park in April 1934.
When fully constructed, the CCC camp consisted of 21 buildings, including 10 barracks, a mess hall, tool house, blacksmith and repair shop, headquarters and supply building, first aid station, recreation hall and latrine.
More than 200 men helped lay the foundation for what hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans enjoy still today at this southeastern Minnesota jewel. Rocks were placed along eroding banks of the Whitewater River, trees were planted, stone was quarried, trails were built and a park manager's home and garage were constructed.
Intended to help boost the nation's Depression-era economy, the CCC was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, and was a relief program for unemployed single men between the ages of 18 and 25. They served nationwide in national and state parks, among other locations, and were paid $30 a month, $25 of which was sent home to the men's parents.
Now the park — one of the state's most popular, with as many as 350,000 visitors annually — will undergo still more revisions, and the Department of Natural Resources Parks and Trails Division will host an open house at the park visitors center from 5:30-7 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the proposed changes.
"The open house will give people a chance to see what we're proposing,'' park manager Brent Anderson said. "We want to get as much feedback as possible.''
Anderson knows some comments he will receive will question the plan.
That's because the DNR is proposing to turn the popular Gooseberry Glen Campground, with its 35 campsites and picturesque setting along the Whitewater River, into a day picnic area.
To replace the lost sites, which host some 9,000 overnight campers annually, the agency wants to construct a new campground across from the park's visitor center, on the opposite side of Hwy. 74.
Presently, that location consists of a smattering of fairly small trees, and few would consider it as picturesque as Gooseberry Glen.
Fair enough, said Jade Templin, the project's principal planner who works out of the DNR's St. Paul office.
"Part of the design of the new campground will be to look at doing selective tree planting,'' Templin said "We will plant medium and, hopefully, some pretty good-sized trees on the new sites.''
The change is being made in part because of the threat that possible floods pose to Gooseberry Glen. In August 2007, about 11 inches of rain drenched much of southeast Minnesota, and the normally placid Whitewater became a raging torrent, forcing evacuation of the park.
No lives were lost. But the park was closed for more than eight months while buildings, trails and campsites were rebuilt, including many at Gooseberry Glen.
Since then, the DNR has installed special gauges upstream of the park that warn of rising water.
As proposed, the new campground will have 40 electric sites, a handful of tent sites, four camper cabins and two shower and bathroom buildings. The park's three primitive group camps also will be redesigned.
"Campers today are bringing more equipment with them, and camping in bigger RVs than they did when Gooseberry Glen was built,'' Anderson said.
The plan is to have work begin next summer, with completion of the new campground in 2017, and the entire project, including updating of Upper and Lower Cedar Hill campgrounds, done by 2019, the park's centennial.
The budget for the project is between $3.75 million and $4 million, with money coming from the parks and trails portion of Legacy Act funds.