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Preservation work at Longbow Camp concludes

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Preservation work at the Longbow Organization Camp near Cascadia is keeping the nearly century-old site looking like new. The camp, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937, has been helped by a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and a Denver-based nonprofit called HistoriCorps.

The 10-acre site east of Sweet Home and on the edge of the Willamette National Forest contains several alpine lodges, a covered picnic area with a fireplace and a nearby circular amphitheater. It occupies a flat stretch of land that runs along the South Santiam River, accessed via the old Santiam Wagon Road. Caravans of settlers likely stopped there to water their horses and cattle for decades before the CCC constructed the proper camp.

The CCC was a program kick-started by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. It employed jobless men to perform various infrastructure projects, such as building sites like Longbow, as well as building roads, power lines and hiking trails. The crews posted at Longbow also fought wildfires during the summer.

The HistoriCorps nonprofit does preservation work on federal sites nationwide and also will oversee work at CCC-built sites at Clear Lake Resort near Sisters and the Santiam Pass Ski Lodge on Highway 20.

 “We take workforces into back-country settings like this and do restoration work,” said HistoriCorps program director Ryan Prochaska. “We’re teaching people to be good stewards of forests and historical sites.”

At Longbow, HistoriCorps was working with a group of Job Corps students from Glide and Yachats. The students, a couple of carpenters, a mason and a construction laborer, were trained to do work in line with historic site standards. While Camp Longbow is not yet on the National Register of Historic Places, it is eligible and therefore national standards for historic preservation apply.

The work must be done according to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s standards pertaining to historic sites, meaning there’s a particular focus on “retaining as much of the historic fabric as possible,” according to Prochaska.

He also said you can feel the history at these old sites, “When you know they were sitting down to eat at those same tables, it’s great to connect to the history that way.”

The present-day workers used materials found on-site, just like the original crews did nearly 100 years ago. To repair an old water fountain, for instance, masonry student Eric Avalos had to go down to the riverside with a sledgehammer and find rocks that matched the existing structure.

“All of the stone is similar to the ones you find in the creek,” Avalos said. “The only difficult part was recreating the mortar style.”

To ensure that crews use techniques that are in line with the existing camp, the Forest Service provides archaeologists who are historians of the carpentry, masonry and engineering that the original laborers used in the 1930s to help oversee the work.

“The CCC were really a group of really well-trained craftsman,” said Forest Service district archaeologist Annmarie Kmetz. “They really understood the environment and the materials they were building with. We want to make sure to preserve the workmanship of the CCC.”

The original crews used few nails or screws, for instance, relying on wooden dowels and clever frame structures that allowed for little wood-cutting in order to construct the cabins and other structures.

The buildings themselves were crafted using old-growth timber that is naturally more resistant to bugs and weatherization. But after more than 80 years, those factors still necessitate this kind of preservation work at the site.

“(This camp) is a lot of wood in the middle of a rain forest,” Prochaska said. “It wants to rot.”

The work included scrubbing moss off the shake shingles of nearly all the structures. The picnic tables by the old chimney were sinking into the ground, too, due to groundwater eroding the soil. Crews hoisted the tables back up as part of extensive work in the covered picnic area.

The fireplace there also was repaired through a process that involved jacking up the support beams on frames in order to repair the mortar. In addition to the water fountain reconstruction, crews also repaired all the cooking pits near the cabins and amphitheater.

Finishing touches included a new frame post for the historic camp sign, as well as the installation of a new sign commemorating the April 2021 work. More extensive work is planned for next April, when HistoriCorps crews will work alongside volunteers from the public.

Troy Shinn covers healthcare, natural resources and the Linn County government. He can be reached at 541-812-6114 or troy.shinn@lee.net. His can be found on Twitter at @troydshinn. 

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HistoriCorps program director Ryan Prochaska talks about repairing Camp Longbow, which was built along the South Santiam River near Cascadia b…

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