Time Travel at Darling Run CampSep 01, 2021 11:00AM ● By Lilace Mellin Guignard
Park at the Darling Run Access Area for the Pine Creek Rail Trail and walk south about five minutes. Look up into the pines downstream for the white spot that tells you a bald eagle is watching your journey back through history. Pass Strap Mill Hollow. Just as you hear the gurgle of Darling Run, stop to read the sign explaining that from 1935 to 1941 there was a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp here between the gravel trail and creek. Until recently, the site of this CCC Camp was thick with pines, hardwoods, and alders, all of which hid the remains of stone foundations and an old flagpole. This summer, a crew of five youths, led by Tioga County resident Sean Minnick and aided by staff of the Bureau of Forestry, have carefully cleared some of the area to create six campsites that will be open in the spring of 2022.
Soon there will be interpretive signs to show how the camp was laid out, and you’ll be able to compare the spruce by the flagpole in the photo to the ones by the flagpole in front of you. Jim Hyland, a Department of Conservation and Natural Resources forester, came to check the crew’s progress and give a history lesson.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt started the CCC in 1933 as the country was in the midst of the Great Depression. “Like his older cousin Teddy, FDR had an innate love of nature that fueled his land conservation ethic,” Jim explains. Young able-bodied men—the average age was eighteen—from families on government aid came to the woods to work. Here they received two sets of clothes, three full meals a day, and thirty dollars a month of which they kept five. The rest was sent to their families.
The “tree army,” as it is often called, did more than plant trees, though they were responsible for re-foresting the “Tioga Desert” after years of heavy logging. They also built dams, state and national parks, fought forest fires, built fire lookout towers, constructed roads, and more. And the early crews started by first building their camps, which only existed on a map. They slept in World War I Army tents until barracks housed the 200 men that rotated every six months. So it continued until the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when the CCC camps were shut down and the young men joined a very different army. While the world was focused elsewhere, buildings fell in on themselves, leaves and duff covered the paths, and Pine Creek and the eagles looked on.
Now the lodging on this land will revert to tents again, providing the only public camping along Pine Creek north of Tiadaghton. It’s full circle for Darling Run Camp, where there had been a state forest camping area before the CCC came. This summer, the crew cut down trees, loaded fifteen truck loads of firewood, chipped branches to use on paths, put in six fire rings and picnic tables, built rustic benches, and cleared a trail to the creek.
The crew is part of the Outdoor Corps, established in 2016 by Governor Tom Wolf, and continuing a proud Pennsylvania legacy—the Keystone State was second only to California in the number of CCC camps. The Outdoor Corps is run by the national Student Conservation Association, which was founded in 1953 and modeled on the CCC. The intent was to pick up where the CCC left off, providing for the upkeep of the national parks and other public spaces in which Americans recreate.
Youths ages fifteen to eighteen work six weeks in the summer for twelve dollars an hour. Sean picks them up in the Tops parking lot in Wellsboro at 7:30 a.m. and drops them off again at 3:30 p.m. They work on DCNR projects, including building trails in Hills Creek State Park and planting goose deterrents at Lyman Run State Park. This is Sean’s second year as crew leader. After retiring from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, he and his wife moved from Washington, D.C., to the quiet of Tioga County. Sean likes spending his summers passing on conservation values and a strong work ethic to young people.
“This trains them to be stewards of the land, even if they don’t pursue an environmental field,” he says. “Every field deals with environmental impacts, and now they’ll understand the importance.” This year’s crew consists of William Lowe, a junior at Cowanesque Valley High School; Alexia Kshir, a junior at North Penn-Mansfield High School; Matthew Richards and Kanan Keck, seniors at Wellsboro Area High School; and Katie Nealen, who just graduated from North Penn-Liberty High School. They’ll tell you what they’ve learned the most this summer is “teamwork.”
Would they bring their families here to camp? Alexia says probably not—her family is more into “glamping.” Katie nods, but they both mention that they may come without their families. “It’ll be cool to come back ten years from now to see what we did,” Katie says.
What they’ve done, whether they realize it or not, is imprint themselves on this land beside Pine Creek, where their sweat has soaked into the same ground as that of those young men almost a century ago, where their muscles have strained like those before, and where their laughter has also been carried on the wind through the pines.
Soon more laughter (and sweat) will come with those who paddle and pedal. Once open, campsite permits will be available for free, but reservations are required. This is the same policy for all campsites along Pine Creek. Contact the district office at (570) 724-2868 for more information about camping in Tioga State Forest or to request a permit.