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December 26, 2014
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History converges at Ten Mile River; Remembering an ‘army’ that planted trees

Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees are seen relaxing and keeping the barrack clean.
Contributed photos

By Tom Caska

There is a very good chance that, if you live in the Upper Delaware River region, you have conservation in your bones. We love the seasonal changes, the outdoors and the open spaces, and we realize what a treasure Mother Nature has given us.

But conservation was not always an important consideration in Sullivan and other nearby counties. In reality, many of the conservation practices of today were born out of years of misuse and abuse of our land and forests. The old-growth forest, home of the Leni-Lenape native people, was cut down long ago, falling to two of the nation’s and our region’s earliest industries—timber and tanning. (Later, tourism would round out the picture of our local economic history—the three T’s.)

Timber and tanning

As settlers arrived in the Delaware River Valley, local forests were harvested to feed Philadelphia’s shipbuilding industry. Later, during the Civil War, Sullivan County and its neighbors were home to tanning operations that made most of the belts, holsters, saddles and boots of the time. Hemlock trees provided tannins for the tanning process, and hickory trees provided the “ideal” color for making leather. The forests became depleted, leaving soil vulnerable to erosion and unable to rejuvenate itself. Conservation as we know it today was unknown.

Then, things began to change. In our own area, one of America’s first conservationists, Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), whose home is the present-day historical site Grey Towers in Milford, PA, was chosen the first chief of the U.S. Forestry Service. He put conservation of forests high on the nation’s priority list. (Pinchot is credited with coining the term “conservation ethic.”)

The Civilian Conservation Corps

This summer, the fascinating story of how parts of our area came to be reforested will be told in a celebration just outside of Narrowsburg, NY. The event marks the 80th year since the inception of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a plan born in the 1930s to give men jobs during the Great Depression and to rebuild a conservation ethic in our nation.