Any day spent outside enjoying our very own Highlands Hammock State Park is always an enjoyable and relaxing experience. Hopefully you were there to experience the sights and sounds of Saturday’s exciting Civilian Conservation Corps Festival.
The CCC was born during the days of the Great Depression. A wealth of information and exhibits was available inside the historic CCC Museum at the state park. Marc Reid and Jay Alexander were the experts in attendance.
“During the years of the Great Depression, 1929-1933, people were suffering greatly,” Reid explained. “Unemployment was about 50 percent. People were starving. The program was focused on young men. For many who joined the CCC, it was their first time away from home.
“These young men worked the lands, actually created the national parks. They participated in what was called “useful public works.” They planted trees, actually four billion trees in just nine years. They learned discipline, work ethic and proper hygiene,” continued Alexander.
“In addition to the skills they learned, the men received $1 per day or $30 a month. They also received what the military calls ‘three hots and a cot.’ The program was considered an alternative program to the military,” said Reid.
The focus of the CCC program was on preservation and conservation. The men received medical and dental care, socialization, job skills and educational opportunities.
“I went to Congress in July of this year to gather signatures to bring back the CCC program. After the war, Congress cut the funding to the program but did not completely abolish it. I am working to address a bill to completely re-establish the program,” said Alexander. He is dedicated to community needs and is a Fire Commissioner in St. Petersburg.
The CCC Festival has become Highlands Hammock’s signature event. Did you ever wonder what a “hammock” was? The answer was found in one of the many interesting exhibits on display at the festival. A hammock is a closed canopy forest. The trees are very large and filter out most of the light. The result is a dark, shady and cool paradise.
Highlands Hammock State Park manager Steven Dale opened the celebration promptly at 10 a.m. After a welcome to the attendees in the picnic area, he unveiled Mountain Dan’s black bear and Florida panther carvings to the delight of the crowd.
Darrell Smith, the CCC Museum curator, enchanted crowds with stories of the hard, but rewarding, life of a young CCC corpsman back in 1936.
The festival welcomed two very interesting and talented guests from Lake Placid. Cracker Cowboy Poet Hank Mattson told stories about the young men who worked with cattle as turn-of-the-century cattle punchers. Greg Graziani, aka “The Python Hunter,” took the stage with very large snakes. Adults and children alike were mesmerized by the snakes and his presentation on “Snakes Alive.”
Musical entertainment was lively and festive. Toe-tapping music was provided by Back Porch Revival, Wiregrass and Roadside Revue. Their selections included everything from gypsy jazz, western swing, bluegrass to folk music.
The arts were beautifully represented at the park’s Recreation Hall. Guest speaker Gary Monroe kicked off this activity with “The Highwaymen: Florida’s African-American Landscape Painters.” The work of many talented artists was on display in the Hall.
Outside, one of the artists was demonstrating his craft. Roy McLendon Sr. was working on a landscape to the delight of the attendees. McLendon is from Vero Beach and has been painting for over 60 years. His attention to detail was evident as he painted a dainty white bird on his canvas.
Another outside display showcased his son’s work. Roy McLendon Jr. is also a gifted artist. “Painting is just so natural. It’s a gift to me. I’ve always loved art. Even as a child, I was always drawing and coloring with crayons,” said McLendon Jr.
The McLendons’ have an Art Gallery in Vero Beach.
Some other interesting exhibits and displays included antique cars from the 1920s to the 1940s, traditional frame quilting, and various arts and crafts vendors. Other agencies represented were Forestry and Agriculture groups, Highlands County Audubon, Florida Native Plant Society and some of the local 4-H Clubs.
Where can you spend a day, close to home, and enjoy all of these activities along with an interesting journey into our rich historical past? There was truly something for everyone at the annual CCC Festival.