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CCC camp gets facelift: Camp Rabideau will be year-round Academy and Learning Center

A group of 16 youth spent four days removing and replacing more than 700 stones to restore the 1930s "C.O. 708" Camp Rabideau sign back to its original appearance. From left in the back row are Hope Bedeau, Jasmine French, Josh Hilmer, Joe Tate, Will Sellon, Greg Smith, Sydni Wind, Aubrey Aragon, Dan Aakus and supervisor Mary Nipp. From left in the ront row are supervisor Brian Johnson, supervisor John Parmeter, Mike Undell and Dakota Johnson. The youth workers spend eight weeks this summer working on re...1 / 2
Dan Evans is director of the Rabideau Conservation Academy and Learning Center. Pioneer Photo/Anne Williams2 / 2

Almost 80 years ago, Camp Rabideau, a former Civilian Conservation Corps barracks, was home to hundreds of young men employed as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's plan to bring the country out of the Great Depression.

Now in the midst of a modern recession, the camp will spring to life once again.

The CCC camp is being turned into the Rabideau Conservation Academy and Learning Center, a year-round facility for area youth and young adults.

One of 2,650 camps started under Roosevelt's New Deal program, Camp Rabideau operated as a CCC camp from 1935-1942. Young men between the ages of 17 and 21 were employed to do conservation and public works projects throughout the country.

The camp is now a National Historic Landmark, dubbed the best preserved CCC camp in the nation.

Despite its "well preserved" status, turning a 75-year-old conservation camp into a year-round modern facility is no easy task. Intensive labor will be needed to upgrade existing buildings, add electricity, improve water and sewer infrastructure, and continue the maintenance of the camp, which encompasses 13 buildings and 112 acres.

Planning for the year-round facility began in 2005 when a group of community leaders, government agencies, non-profit groups, school districts, tribal governments and concerned citizens met to address the escalating violence and crime affecting youth in the region.

The tragic school shootings at Red Lake and recent homicides in the Cass Lake area focused attention to the need to find new programs for youth and young adults, said Dan Evans, project developmental consultant.

A feasibility study funded by the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, Initiative Foundation, Cass Lake Partnership and U.S. Forest Service identified Camp Rabideau as a possible site for a new program.

Funding received from the Northwest Minnesota Foundation and the Initiative Foundation was directed towards the feasibility study, Youth Garden program and conservation and language immersion programs.

The committee also received a two-year grant from the Blandin Foundation to develop the camp into an Academy and Learning Center. This created Evans' job to develop test pilot programs for the Academy and create a non-profit organization to manage the programs.

"The mission of the Academy and Learning Center at Camp Rabideau is to create pathways to jobs and higher education," said Evans.

In the past two years Evans has connected with several organizations from the region to form long-term partnerships.

This summer CALC has partnered with area youth who are funded by Beltrami County consolidated funds. The youth workers spent six weeks last summer and eight weeks this summer working on renovation projects at Camp Rabideau.

Projects this summer include painting, gardening, installing a solar electric fence, renovating buildings, constructing a 50-foot greenhouse, weaving a fence made of tree saplings, and redoing the original 1930s CCC sign.

This is the second year Beltrami County has received consolidated funds to provide wages, insurance and transportation for the youth to work at Camp Rabideau.

According to Chad Rebisehke, service coordinator at Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Center, these stimulus funds are unique; they allow youth who may not meet other program criteria a chance to put service learning projects on their résumés.

"I'm hoping to keep the Camp Rabideau project going through the consolidated funds," said Rebisehke. "It is uncertain whether we will have the funding in the future, but I'm hoping we will."

In 2008 and 2009, several pilot programs were implemented at Camp Rabideau. Evans said all youth participants have come from low income, disadvantaged households in Beltrami and Cass counties.

"All of the projects allow youth to learn new skills, experience new environments, and new career opportunities in conservation and environmental fields," said Evans.

The USFS recently received $1.5 million in funding to complete the renovation of the Rabideau campus, which is expected to be completed in 2011.

The Cass Lake School District, Rural MN CEP and the USFS will start a new learning youth initiative in September called the Rabideau Conservation Corps.

The program will select up to 15 youth ages 16-21 from Cass and Beltrami counties to participate in a 12-month program. RCC members will be paid wages, insurance, transportation and meals five days a week for a 40 week period.

"RCC will take in youth from low income families without a high school diploma or GED," said Evans. "They will learn new skills in construction trades and in the conservation field through hands-on training, while completing their high school education."

CALC plans to eventually expand the RCC program as a bridge to establish a year-round AmeriCorps program in 2011.

Evans said the RCC will follow in the footsteps of the CCC era, when Camp Rabideau was providing income to men and their families through tough times.

"As far as I'm concerned, the Great Depression is still found on the reservations," said Evans. "This will allow us to give youth and young adults a chance at better jobs and higher education."