Visit a ghost camp by candlelight

January 25, 2019

Whitewater State Park marks its 100th anniversary this year.

The first of events throughout the year marking the centennial is a “Ghost Camp by Candlelight” tour Saturday.

Visitors will get a guided tour of a candle and lantern-lit reproduction of the former Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

Although Legislation creating the park was passed in 1919, it would be more than a decade before the amenities people expect appeared at the state park.

“The moment we really became a park was the introduction of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s,” said Jeremy Darst, a park naturalist at Whitewater.

The cabins, trails, landscaping and even some of the river channel were created by CCC workers. Some of their work is recognizable — especially iconic stone cabins and buildings throughout the park. Other projects that had a large impact on the park and its use by visitors aren’t as noticeable.

“Some of the best work they did were very big things that are harder to notice that are just as impressive and are still being utilized to this day,” Darst said.

The camp where about 200 CCC workers lived year-round was also impressive, Darst said. It included 10 barracks buildings, a shower facility, dining hall, wash house, garage and toolshed, and a blacksmith shop.

“It was a pretty complete space,” Darst said. “They had 20-plus buildings in a not-very-big space.”

In the latter part of World War II, the camp held German prisoners of war. It was later used by scouts and a variety of other organizations would rent the space.

“I’m kind of a big history buff,” Darst said. “And that site holds a lot of interest for what it’s held over the years.”

Park officials and volunteers used aerial photos of the site and GPS to determine where the buildings were to recreate their footprint for the anniversary event. Darst said the GPS technology made the task possible.

“I don’t know if a few years ago you could have done this with any accuracy,” he said.

The reproduction will include almost all of the original buildings — one of the barracks buildings won’t be recreated in order to allow parking for the event, Darst said.

Over the years, flooding and storms took their toll on the campgrounds. A tornado destroyed some of the barracks buildings.

Volunteer reenactors will be on the site to talk about the buildings and their uses for people attending the hike.

For more information about the event and other centennial celebrations, contact Whitewater State Park at 507-312-2300.