News Column

Veterans Help Restore Historic Forest Lodge

August 29, 2014



RHINELANDER, Wis., Aug. 29 -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture'sU.S. Forest Service unit - Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest - issued the following news release:

There were very few flowers growing on Camp Victory and in Baghdad's "Green Zone" when retired Army Maj. Paula Gray deployed there in 2003.

That was not the case in 2014 when she and a four other veterans and several other volunteers worked to restore the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest's Forest Lodge "Cow Palace" Aug. 4-22.

Gray and her fellow veterans were part of a building restoration team sponsored by HistoriCorps, a nonprofit organization based in Denver that helps veterans gain skills in building restoration and preservation trades while restoring historic buildings in national parks and forests as well as other Natalie Henshaw, crew leader, prepares lunch for the volunteer team. historic locations.

When deciding if she should join the project Gray did a reconnaissance mission taking a trip to the site from her hometown of Moose Lake, Minnesota. She fell in love with it and started looking into its history. She found that the previous owner, Mary Griggs Burke, loved flowers and every year the planters would be overflowing with flowers and she set out to make that happen once again.

This summer's project marks the third year in a row that the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest worked with HistoriCorps and the second year with veterans working on the crew.

Veterans join HistoriCorps through partnerships with the Student Conservation Association, Youth Conservation Corps, and local veteran organization, state government employment and veterans service offices and individual contacts, explained Townsend Anderson, HistoriCorps Executive Director.

"We have been called a hybrid between a construction company and an outdoor adventure company," Anderson said. "We proudly say that the higher the quality of the experience of the volunteer, veteran and student, the higher the quality of the product we deliver to our project sponsors and partners."

Anderson said all of the restoration work is completed to the U.S. Department of the Interior workmanship standards for historic structures.

Calling the organization a "step-on, step-off operation," Anderson said HistoriCorps provides building assessments, cost estimating, proposals and project management. The team arrives on-site with expertise, truck, trailer, tools, equipment and camp kitchen.

"We do this in remote and spectacularly beautiful places for weeks at a time," he added.

In addition to their work at Forest Lodge this year, HistoriCorps volunteers have completed projects in Colorado, West Virginia, Utah, New Hampshire and Wyoming, Anderson said.

Veterans can earn a certificate in historic preservation or degree in Historic Building Technology through a HistoriCorps' partnership with Lamar Community College, Lamar, Colorado.

"Our work has all the attributes for helping veterans re-integrate into civilian society - community and public service, team building and team work, leadership and discipline, and a well-defined public purpose," he said. "In addition, the skills they learn will serve them for life and career if they choose, and they are transferable to the mainstream construction industry."

"I was looking for work. I was on a job (Web) site and saw a couple of links. I found this one (to HistoriCorps) and it sounded interesting," said retired Army 1st Sgt. Ginger MacDonald, Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

MacDonald, who deployed to Baghdad with the Waukesha-based 135th Medical Co. in 2009, said she and her 16-year-old son worked at Forest Lodge the week before as part of his Eagle Scout community service project.

"It was awesome. I decided 'I'm coming back," she said, and returned to the site for the final week of the project.

One of the biggest challenges was learning how to operate an articulating saw, she said.

"We had to take the logs off the side of the building and cut them at an angle and then match them to logs to the same dimensions," MacDonald said. "I have never done anything like that. I felt like I learned something. I accomplished something."

The former senior noncommissioned officer said veterans should take a closer look at the opportunities provided by HistoriCorps.

"You got to get online and find out where the next project is," she said. "They are a great organization. You get good food, good training and it's a great opportunity."

In addition to the volunteers, three on-site HistoriCorps managers supervised the work and provided training.

Volunteers from the U.S. Forest Service's Passport in Timeprogram and nearby neighbors also added their skills and labor to the Cow Palace restoration project.

Forest Lodge is an 870-acre estate on the shores of Lake Namakagon, near Cable. In 1902, Crawford Livingston, a wealthy St. Paul, Minnesota, businessman, purchased an initial 100 acres of clear-cut forestland for $904 to serve as a country retreat for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation. He built a summer cabin and he and his family watched the forest grow back.

Livingston's granddaughter, the late Mary Griggs Burke, inherited Forest Lodge in 1943. Working through the Trust for Public Land, she donated Forest Lodge to the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in 1999.

Forest Lodge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and the Forest Service assumed control of the estate in 2012 after her passing.

During their three weeks' work, the volunteers replaced the one-story building's rotted wooden siding, sealed the exterior wood, installed four window wells, repaired and installed screens on the building's three cupolas and replaced several missing rafters, said Joyce McKay, archeologist for the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Last summer, a crew replaced the cedar shake roofing, began restoration work on the three cupolas and repaired deteriorated log ends.

"I was impressed with their wonderful spirit," said McKay. "They were happy to be working."

"The veterans' training at Forest Lodge is a way of connecting existing programs and projects to accomplish multiple simultaneous goals," said Jason Maloney, Northern Great Lake Visitor Center director and Forest Lodge restoration project manager.

"The veterans' and volunteers' labor and skills helps the Forest Service stretch its restoration budget," Maloney explained. "The same dollar that funds the veterans training in historic preservation also funds actual historical preservation of important historic buildings that belong to the public. The veterans' training program is an example of making the same dollar work harder."

Work on the Cow Palace and the estate's other structures will bring Forest Lodge closer to the goal of using the land for scientific research, natural and human history studies, meeting sites, a "hub for environmental education" and training in historic restoration, said Maloney.

"This place has been a pretty neat place to come to since the last ice age. This is a very significant piece of land that belongs to the public. We have a treasure that we can develop for the public good," he continued.

Maloney said the Forest Service is working with several partners in addition to HistoriCorps to make the estate and its structures "to the point where they are safe for occupancy and public use. We are not there yet, but we are off to a good start."

The Forest Lodge partnership team will mirror the business model currently used at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center where the Forest Service has teamed with other federal agencies, state agencies and a private nonprofit organization, he said. Currently the Forest Lodge partners include the Trust for Public Land, the Wisconsin State Historical Society and volunteer groups such as HistoriCorps.

Additionally, the Forest Service has an agreement with Northland College, he said. Some of the Ashland-based school's professors have completed surveys of the estate and interns have collected water samples from Lake Namakagon.

"Forest Lodge is all about partnership. This project is a win for veterans, a win for the Forest Service and a win for the public," Maloney said.

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