Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Historic CCC buildings abound on day hike

Lady Slipper Lodge, a CCC-constructed building at Gooseberry Falls
State Park in Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Map of CCC Buildings Trail, courtesy of Minnesota DNR.

More than 80
stone structures
can be found in
Minnesota park


Several impressive historic buildings constructed by the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps await day hikers at Gooseberry Falls State Park.

The 0.9-mile looping CCC Buildings Trail is not an official park trail but a combination of trail segments and park roads that pass several prominent CCC structures. Among them are a “lodge,” several shelters, an ice house, a water tower, and a pump house.

More than 80 handcrafted stone buildings, structures and objects – all built by the CCC between 1934 and 1941 – can be found at Gooseberry Falls. Known architecturally as the CCC/Rustic Style, the Minnesota Historical Society notes that "This stonework is the most visually distinctive masonry construction in the state park system." Italian stonemasons supervised the work.

The CCC consisted of unemployed young men who worked on several improvement projects across the nation during the Great Depression. Each man was paid $30 per month, much of which was sent back home to help their families.

Campground cluster
To reach the park, from Two Harbors drive north on Minn. Hwy. 61, turning into the park at its rest area/visitor center. Rather than park at the lots here, continue south on the entry road to the picnic area parking lot near the campgrounds.

From the lot’s east side, take the middle footpath to the campground, walking down the road between campsites 62 and 63. At the next road intersection, go right/west, following the pavement.

A parking lot is on the west side; across from it, take the footpath on the road’s east side to the first CCC structure, the Campground Shelter. Built in 1937-38, the Campground Shelter originally was a combination laundry and utility room. It since has been converted to a shelter.

Return to the campground road, then go right/northwest. After passing the next two roads leading to campsites, take the footpath going left/west to the Ice House. Among the last buildings constructed in 1940-41, the Ice House once was an important part of the camping trip but with modern gear and refrigeration is no longer relevant.

Upon returning to the campground road, go left/north. At the second road intersection, go left/west onto it. Follow it around to near Campsite 17. A footpath leads to the Water Tower. Among the first CCC structures built in the park, the stonework surrounds a 10,000-gallon tank.

Back on the campground road, head left/northeast. Take the next foot trail left/north to the Lady Slipper Lodge. Containing a fireplace and benches, the shelter gives the feeling of a true Northwoods cabin. It was the first building that the CCC erected, in 1935, as a kitchen shelter.

Lake views
Continue to the other side of the shelter and pick up the park entry road. Go right/southeast onto it. Then take the footpath running left/northeast to the Lake View Shelter. Sitting on a hill overlooking Lake Superior, the log and stone building opened in 1936. It has picnic tables and modern restrooms.

Directly northeast of the shelter is the Pump House. Built in 1940, the campground used it to draw water from Lake Superior.

Looking across the Gooseberry River, you should be able to spot the Lookout Shelter. Opening in 1936, it can be seen up close on via the Gitchi Gummi Trail.

From the Pump House, retrace your steps back to the Lake View Shelter. A footpath runs southwest back to the parking lot where you began.

There are several other CCC structures in the park that are worth seeing. Most notable among them is the Castle in the Park, a retaining wall that can be seen via the Gitchi-Gami State Trail; the CCC Worker statue on the Gateway Plaza atop the retaining wall pays homage to those who built those who served here. A trail shelter is on the Gitchi Gummi Trail, which includes a switchback staircase. The Falls View Shelter can be seen on the Nelsens Creek Trail near Upper Falls.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.