Courtesy of Anunta Research Center
A sizeable library served as a place for members of the corps to relax in off-duty hours. Many of the CCC members were families attracted to the library to improve their education because many of them abandoned high school classes to help support their families in the Great Depression of the 1930s. They performed public service work and were compensated $30 per month and $25 of their wages were sent home to their families. The men had free room and board and clothing. A medical dispensary was on site. A majority of the “CCC boys” went right from the corps to serve in the military when World War II burst out on Dec. 7, 1941.
Courtesy of Anunta Research Center

A sizeable library served as a place for members of the corps to relax in off-duty hours. Many of the CCC members were families attracted to the library to improve their education because many of them abandoned high school classes to help support their families in the Great Depression of the 1930s. They performed public service work and were compensated $30 per month and $25 of their wages were sent home to their families. The men had free room and board and clothing. A medical dispensary was on site. A majority of the “CCC boys” went right from the corps to serve in the military when World War II burst out on Dec. 7, 1941.

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Scores of families have relished the confines of spacious J.W. Wells Park nestled along Green Bay at Cedar River. Whether the enjoyment was family picnics, camping or other social outings, the cozy park and its staff were gracious hosts.

Former Menominee Middle School students were left with the memories of school days when they spent several days at the park as part of a marvelous outdoor education experience under the guidance of teacher Wayne Antilla. The snappy Menominee Northernaires Drum & Bugle Corps and other musical groups utilized the meticulous grounds for practice sessions.

Deer hunters and cross-country skiers found fun and comfort at the rustic log cabins during their getaways.

Our family and friends enjoyed the campgrounds and related park offerings in the bygone years. My wife and her friends found the surroundings ideal for cross-country skiing. The stories and memories of enjoying the park no matter the season are endless.

There is much more history to the park, however, than has been mentioned here. I remember visiting the park with my parents during the Great Depression of the 1930s. My oldest brother Vernon was stationed at Camp Wells as a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a marvelous program initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to assist families and put young men to work building roads, bridges, walkways and recreation facilities, and the planting of millions of trees to restock our forests.

In the fall of 1938, details of the reoccupation and the startup of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), another solid move by Roosevelt to boost the nation’s economy and improve its infrastructure during harsh times, were announced for relocating M-35. The plan included the relocation route of the highway to run through a sizeable chunk of park property.

The Camp Wells roster swelled to 197 men, plus four officers. Some of the young men were transferred to Camp Wells from Camp Jumbo in Houghton County. The CCC lineup ranged in age from 17 to 24.

Lt. Carl Dougovito, who later attained the rank of colonel, was camp commander. My brother always spoke well of Mr. Dougovito, a man I met later in my newspaper days. He had several sons who were stellar athletes at Stephenson High School.

The senior Dougovito was an outstanding wrestler at the University of Michigan and served as a team co-captain in the early 1930s. He won two Big Ten championships and one national title, and was a member of the 1932 U.S. Olympic team. He was inducted into the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame in 1977.

Although the men from the CCC program were performing the work, the National Park Service was in charge of the overall project. George Seeley, a Michigan State College graduate, was project director. Sterling Myrick of Lansing, an inspector for the Park Service, assisted in the planning of the Camp Wells project.

The Park Service was serious about the task at hand. Here’s what Myrick told a Herald-Leader reporter: “The Park Service is ready to embark on a comprehensive program for park improvements that will make the area outstanding in the Upper Peninsula.”

The Michigan State Highway Department headed the relocation of M-35 where 100 hands “and a power shovel” began to grade a little more than two miles of road through the park. Workers from the CCC program prepared the right-of-way by clearing brush and stumpage in the summer of 1937 before moving to other projects.

In the spring of 1939, the public was given an opportunity to visit the site of the improvements. More than 200 people visited. The turnout was considered good because many families didn’t own an automobile, and scads of others who did couldn’t afford to run them.

The young men at Camp Wells were a part of 5,000 CCC volunteers assigned to 23 camps in the Upper Peninsula. Col. Hayes Kroner of Fort Brady at Sault Ste. Marie was district commander of all U.P. camps. Fort Brady, now, is the site of Lake Superior State University on the banks of the St. Mary’s River.

The first company of CCC enlistees assigned to Camp Wells arrived in April 1935. The camp was abandoned in the summer of 1937 and reoccupied in October 1938 for the M-35 and park projects.

In August 1982, a large group of alumni from the CCC camps assembled at Wells Park to observe the 50th anniversary of the corps’ founding. The alumni event coincided with a new and similar organization known as the Michigan Youth Corps. The latter was created by Gov. James Blanchard in the summer of 1982 to help young people find work.

Blanchard believed it would be a good idea to help the CCC oldtimers celebrate their golden anniversary by inspecting work projects at former Camp Wells where the Youth Corps was repairing buildings that were constructed in the 1930s by the older generation.

“Did you find any mistakes?,” quipped one oldtimer. “Nope. You did a good job,” replied the young worker from the Youth Corps while putting on a new roof at one of the buildings.

“Are the bats still in the roof?” asked another from the touring alumni brigade.

The Michigan Youth Corps had about 25,000 youths spread around the state. Much like their counterparts from the 1930s, they were engaged in public service projects and earned money doing it.

From the days of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s to the Michigan Youth Corps of the 1980s, two generations of young people have their handprints in the makeup of a sprawling 97-acre park that people continue to enjoy today.