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Preserving historic places

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Roaring River State Park is not the only site where New Deal-era buildings can be found. The Cassville Ranger Station, located on Highway 248, is home to five historic stone buildings constructed by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crews. If you've never had the opportunity to visit the Ranger Station, you'll find a tranquil setting that is like stepping back to a by-gone era. We know several years ago, the U.S. Forest Service had considered closing the Cassville Ranger Station and selling off the property. Citizens voiced their displeasure at the possibility of no more ranger station in Cassville and the powers that be backed off from the plan.

Just last week, a list published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation caught our eye. It listed the 11 most endangered historic sites in the United States and the facilities located in the Mark Twain National Forest made the list. The Forest Service's master facilities plan, according to the Trust, favors new construction over retention of existing facilities and does not include historic significance as a factor it considers before making decisions about the future of its facilities. This policy established by the Forest Service seems shortsighted at best, and we'd like to see budget monies appropriated for the restoration of old CCC buildings and lookout towers that are located on forest land.

Shortsightedness for monetary gain or budgetary savings seems to be a bad habit established by the federal government in relationship to the management of its forest land. This past year, citizens and Congressmen alike have joined forces to fight the administration's plan to sell off precious parcels of forest land to private interests. Now it appears, we must widen our battle to include protection of historic structures located on U.S. forest land.

We have appreciated the state's commitment to renovating CCC-era structures at Roaring River State Park. Extra money has been allocated for projects that have involved painstaking restoration of the old stone buildings, walkways and raceways located in the state-owned park. Many of the young men who served in the CCC camps are now aging old men. With more and more of these men dying each year, the buildings and structures they constructed are all that's left to tell the CCC story and its role in FDR's plan to rebuild America in the wake of the Great Depression.

We hope the inclusion of Mark Twain National Forest on the National Trust's most endangered list will get the attention of the American public, as well as federal officeholders who make budget decisions. It would be a crime to allow such an important piece of American history to be destroyed under the guise of balancing the federal budget. This may be another one of those issues that our readers might want to contact their legislators about. We wouldn't want to see Barry County lose a big piece of its World War II history. Local citizens who are concerned about preserving historic sites might also begin brainstorming about ways to step in and help save sites such as the Cassville Ranger Station. If talk ever resurfaces about closing the site, we need to be prepared to respond quickly. Federal funding is tight and a cooperative arrangement between state and local entities might be what it takes to ensure that historic buildings in our area are salvaged and restored.