A giant step in land preservation

By John K. Hanson Jr. | Jul 25, 2011
Courtesy of: Walsh History Center The builders of the Snow Bowl.

Hard times can have lasting effects on a region. Unlikely as it seems, we are very fortunate here on Penobscot Bay to have two positive legacies of the Great Depression of the 1930s: Camden Hills State Park and the Camden Snow Bowl, both developed 75 years ago.

While these projects were different in their inception, both have added immeasurably to the quality of life on the Midcoast. Every time I look out over the Camden Hills, I thank the men and women whose work helped preserve such beauty.

Camden Hills State Park — the second-most popular park in the state — is a national treasure, born of federal funding and planning. The Camden Snow Bowl, on the other hand, has always been a jewel of community involvement.

What was originally called the Camden Hills Mountain Project received formal approval and funding from the federal government on April 17, 1935. By August of that year, some 195 men were working on the project while living in a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. With landscape architect Hans Heistad leading the way, the workers developed a series of trails and structures based on his philosophy: “We don’t disturb nature, we just improve on it.”

This effort was part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s national works program, designed to help people make it through the tough times of the Depression by creating environmentally oriented jobs. Maine was one of only two states that did not vote for FDR, but Mainers benefited from his administration’s programs nonetheless. What was built during that time has lasted long and well and given continuing joy.

The Camden Snow Bowl at Ragged Mountain, on the other hand, was truly a community effort, inspired by the rousing success of a Winter Carnival that was held on Hosmer Pond in the February of 1936.

The carnival, which featured a hockey rink, toboggan chute, ski jump hill, track for cross-country skiing, and a Carnival Queen, led to the formation of the Camden Outing Club. That group of local residents envisioned a permanent winter recreation area at Ragged Mountain and set to work to make it so. It is estimated that more than 1,000 people helped build the original facility. Some swung a hammer, others donated materials or cooked for the builders. The official opening was mid-January 1937.

That initial series of winter carnivals ended in 1941, when World War II changed the rhythm of community life, but the Snow Bowl has gone on for decades, providing a place for winter recreation. The original rope tows have been replaced by chair lifts and T-bars. The original lodge was replaced, and today, plans are afoot for another round of renovations. Regardless of the changes, it is still at heart the community-based Camden Snow Bowl of that earlier time.

While skiing, hiking, and picnicking high above Penobscot Bay, you can still feel the spirit of all those helping hands that came together 75 years ago to make this a better place in which to live.

This year, The Maine Boats, Homes and Harbors Show, held in Rockland August 12 to 14, 2011, will focus on the coast circa 1936 as part of an annual exploration of the ways that “Tradition Shapes Innovation.”

In addition to historical images and films, a mix of vintage and modern products will be on display at the show to help trace the influences of that time on the products of today, and the ways that creativity has moved the state and its craftspeople ever forward.

As Maine’s only in-the-water boat show and coastal lifestyle event, the show annually features approximately 300 exhibitors of boats and marine gear, home wares and furniture, art and jewelry. Leaders in the sustainable energy industry will be on hand to discuss modern tools to help preserve Maine’s natural resources. The show is produced by Rockland-based Maine Boats, Homes and Harbors magazine, maineboats.com, 207-594-8622.

John K. Hanson Jr., is publisher of Maine Boats, Homes and Harbors magazine.

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