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Discussion heated up at Camp Rabideau open house

What started out as a welcoming open house to introduce the public to the "what's happening" factor at Camp Rabideau, turned into an evening of heated discussion June 9.

Camp Rabideau, a Civilian Conservation Corps camp that was built in the 1930s, is located six miles south of Blackduck on the Scenic Highway. On Feb. 21, 2006, the camp was designated as a National Historic Landmark and is recognized as an important part of the area's history.

Today, almost 80 years later, while the overall intent is for the camp to remain a historic landmark in honor of the original members of the CCC, efforts are being made to preserve the camp's buildings, with some modernized improvements.

Greg Morris, a district ranger with the Forest Service began the evening with a tour of the facility. During the tour, Frank Polich, the designer and engineer for the restoration project, explained to the group how he and the project contractors are working to preserve the camp's buildings while staying inside specific guidelines for preserving a historic landmark.

"One of the biggest challenges we've run into is transitioning a historic building with framing details that will satisfy today's building codes. We want to make this place a safe one," Polich said. "We plan to make one of the houses a fully functional kitchen, another into a restroom and shower building and also a bunkhouse. There is currently no insulation in the houses and we plan to insulate them in a way that is cost effective. A drain field will also run southeast of the camp."

Concerns from the audience began with the fear that the historical value of the camp would be taken away with such changes.

"There has been no talk of these kinds of changes in the 23 years I've lived here," said audience member Scott Burns. "This is quite a curveball."

"There will be a rubber underlay to preserve the integrity of the roof and we will re-lay the stuff over the top of it, so the buildings retain the historic appearance," Morris said. "The forestry camp in Grand Rapids is running into the same challenges of taking buildings that were only intended to last a few years and bringing them up. We will not run outside the guidelines to keep the historic value."

Polich said he doesn't use the word "permanent" very often, but after the restoration project is complete, these buildings they're working on will be permanent. He hopes to have five buildings stabilized by this fall.

"For me and for the Forest Service, the first priority of the camp is the preservation of the historic significance of the buildings and the archeology that goes into it," said Morris. "Secondly, is preserving the significance of the camp and what the original CCC programs and Franklin Roosevelt's vision and dream was about.

I think we want to embrace the vision and spirit of Camp Rabideau. It was about the younger population getting a chance at work. We hope that today, it can still be a place for our youth to get that same work ethic. It is a living and breathing opportunity to experience an education about the camp's historical significance as well as hands on work experience to bring back to their communities."

Ann Long-Voelkner, the outdoor recreation planner with the Forest Service was on hand to address the public about the grants and funding the camp was receiving for the current and future restoration projects.

"The funding we are receiving has enabled us to come to the point to bring together the historical point of Rabideau with present day," she said.

"My issue is that you put the cart in front of the horse and didn't notify the community," said Burns. "I'm kind of confused how you can take a national historical site, spend a lot of money to upgrade buildings to make them a functional kitchen and a functional bath and then throw in a bunkhouse and I'm wondering who is going to use this facility and how can you take something that is so old and such a treasure and change the use?"

"As far as getting input from the public, that was done," Morris said. "In 1997 we went through the process of talking about Camp Rabideau with the public. In 2006, it was re-looked at and 1997's work was still valid. What we did and what we agreed to do was restore the buildings, have programs out here and we would operate under a special use permit, which is what we're going to do."

Morris went on to say that seasonal use was not defined in the 1997 studies.

"It did talk about the potential for folks to be here on a temporary basis overnight," he said. "What was not talked about, in my mind, was turning this into a job course center to have year round residents and programs. Right now, that is not what our plan is. If we get to the stage of having people spend the night, we will go back out to the public to get input on what such kind of program looks like."

He went on to explain that if someone proposes the idea over overnight stays in the future, he felt that the camp would be outside of the original intentions.

"The camp is different, though," Morris said. "It is different than it did five years ago and it will continue to be different. There have been comments made by some people that the buildings should be left to rot into the ground because that is the historic significance. There are folks that want to see that as well as folks that want to see more of a reuse of the area."

He then explained that through special use, the integrity and historical value of the site will be kept.

"We're trying to balance out keeping the historic value while using insulation to help maintain the buildings."

"Why would you want to do that, Greg?" Burns asked. "I don't understand why you would want to insulate the buildings?"

"Because we want to use them and we want this to be a living facility as it was intended to be," Morris explained.

"So there is plans to house people out here overnight?" Burns questioned.

"I told you that we don't want the buildings falling into the ground. We are insulating the buildings to keep the integrity of the buildings," Morris said.

Burns suggested using treated lumber as opposed to insulation.

"It's cheaper and you could stretch your dollars further," he argued. "What is going to happen when the grants run out?"

Morris said that a lot of the grants are being done under a Recovery Act.

"We will be continuing to look for grants to maintain upkeep," he said. "We want to winterize these buildings to have special programs for adults and youth year round."

Morris and other Forest Service personnel at the meeting continued to stress that there is no intention to take away from the historical value of the camp, but to make it a more functioning site.

Camp Rabideau is open daily to the public and tours of the facility, including buildings that will have no construction done on them are provided. Call the Blackduck Ranger District at 835-4291 for information.

(Further information on the youth programs at Camp Rabideau continued to be discussed during the meeting. More details will be given in next week's American)