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Then and Now: Stories with the Corps

Old photo large group of CCC members

By D’artagnan Johnson, Youth Outdoors Crew 6 Member / AmeriCorps Member


Recently I came across an interesting article that talked about my great-grandfather’s time in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The time was 1938-1939. Fast forward over 80 years later, I am now serving with the Corps. The time is 2022. A lot has changed from then to now. Here are a few stories of both of our experiences:


My Story:

I am currently serving as a part of Youth Outdoors Crew Six, doing projects with invasive species in the Minneapolis/ St. Paul area. Some of my daily tasks include hauling and cutting buckthorn leafy spurge, ash, and other invasive species. I am doing phragmites and Oriental bittersweet surveys and pesticide treatments while showing environmental stewardship. Community awareness is important with use of pesticides especially in Minneapolis where there is a strong anti-pesticide movement. A special assignment recently included Japanese knotweed removal to Edward C Solomon Park in Minneapolis.

5 CCMI members in front of waterfall


I would describe this environment as collaborative and rewarding. We have a crew leader, project manager, and field coordinators who assist and help with training. I am one of five people in my crew. Sometimes we get to serve with other crews in our district. A typical day starts early at the Hamms Shop in St. Paul, MN. My crew and I arrive by 7AM to prep for the day and head over to our project site or headquarters at the Minneapolis Parks and Rec.

Other crews are assigned to similar but different tasks such as spiking or fire response. Some crews do more fire and service work, using stronger chemical, herbicides, and back-pack sprayers. There are Conservation Corps locations all over Minnesota and Iowa, with multiple crews in each district.


5 CCMI members in prairie


Our basic work uniforms include steel-toes work boots, utility pants, cotton crew shirts with the Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa logo, protective glasses, and headgear.


Four CCMI members in forest


My Great Grandfather’s Story: Cyril Peter Kuklok


old photograph of man in cap


My great-grandfather worked at a conservation camp in Itasca, MN, working on roadside clean-up and related tasks. If he were working today, my great- grandfather would be part of the North District.



old photo of man in uniform
Here is a photo of him Cyril Peter Kuklok in his CCC uniform taken in 1938


Surveying was also a task of my great-grandfather. In the wintertime, he was one of six men chosen to survey lakes in the Itasca area. The work that he did helped to assess if the lakes were able to support a fish population; in the summer, fish were planted into these lakes. He told the following story in which his crew walked onto lakes in their snowshoes, measured their depth, took soil samples from the lake bottoms every 100 feet, and counted air pockets in the lake ice. During one of these surveys, he fell into the lake and a fellow crew member was able to grab a pole that he grabbed onto and was able to be pulled out. In another incident, a crew member almost drowned on this team. Safety and working together was important.

The men in the camp wore uniforms and the camp itself was run like the army. There were many tasks to be done which included working on “forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, and other conservation projects.”


old photo of small cabin
Most had to build their camps by hand here is one that his had worked on a year later


old photo of mess hall


Old photo large group of CCC members
Here is a photo of his crew from the MNHS archives


Another interesting fact was that he joined the CCC at the age of 16 and it took one month on the job before he was found out to be underage from the 17 year old age requirement required of that time

The Conservation Corp has been doing important work for many, many years and I am excited to have the opportunities to share some personal stories from both the past and present.