Renovations underway at Mount Morrison CCC Camp

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By Deborah Swearingen

Renovations are in progress at the Mount Morrison Civilian Conservation Corps camp, a place that provided work to young men during the Great Depression.

The first phase of the project, which is set to be completed by fall, is part of Denver Mountain Parks’ goal to bring more people to the property and to create a historic preservation-focused campus.

Currently, one of the original structures is being rehabbed as office space for Denver Mountain Parks and HistoriCorps, a nonprofit that provides volunteers of all skill level with a hands-on experience preserving historic structures on public lands across America.

According to Shannon Dennison, cultural resources administrator with Denver Mountain Parks, through a newly established partnership with HistoriCorps, the nonprofit will occupy office space and then do a certain number of historic preservation volunteer partnerships in the Denver Mountain Parks system.

Throughout the years, there hasn’t been a lot of public access at Morrison’s CCC Camp. It’s not open to the public on a daily basis but instead viewable on various open days and for scheduled tours.

“We really want to change the trajectory of the use (and) make sure that we’re using these (buildings) for their highest and best purpose,” Dennison said. “Make sure that the public can come in and understand and enjoy the property so that they have a better understanding of the significance and, really, the strong sense of place here.”

Although it was once one of 100 in Colorado, Morrison’s CCC camp is one of the few intact camps left in the United States. The Civilian Conservation Corps was created under President Franklin Roosevelt, who hoped the program would create jobs and protect the forests and lands around the United States, according to information from Denver Mountain Parks. Civilian Conservation Corps workers across the country planted 3 billion trees and helped construct dams, roads, parks, beaches and more.

The men — approximately 200 — employed at the Mount Morrison camp spent much of their time building Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, which was purchased by the city of Denver in 1928 for about $50,000.

Despite this, the camp is a little slice of history that many people don’t know about.

“A lot of people know of Red Rocks,” Dennison said, “but not a lot of people really understand the significance of Red Rocks or even know that this camp is here.”

The two are tightly connected and play a significant role in American history as well as “the development of our nation and its survival through the depression,” she added.

Morrison’s Mayor Sean Forey agreed. Before renovations began, Morrison staff took a tour of the property alongside Denver Mountain Parks staff.

“It’s an interesting historical site,” Forey said, noting that he couldn’t speak too much to Denver Mountain Parks’ plans — a lot of which are funding dependent.

It’s Dennison’s hope to one day host educational workshops for kids, teachers and more on site. She hopes further renovations, including upgrades to the barracks buildings and the creation of an on-site museum, will be well underway within a decade. However, future plans are fairly uncertain at this point.

“Projects like this tend to take time, and the money has to come from different sources,” Dennison said. “It’s really about cobbling the money together from different sources, finding private sector supporters who want to be part of the project, working very closely with the Denver Mountain Parks Foundation and trying to bring everybody together to support the project.”

But in Dennison’s view one thing is certain: the CCC camp is a treasure that more people should know about.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.