Bureau of Land Management’s YCC program enriched lives of youth from across Alaska
The small log cabin show n in the drawing is the last vestige of the Bureau of Land Management’s Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) camp at Tanancross. It is the camp’s wellhouse, built in the 1970s.
The YCC, patterned after the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, is a federally-funded summer program, which in its early years, was administered in Alaska by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service, and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. Its purpose is to provide summer work opportunities for young people (ages 15-18) and expose them to our country’s natural and cultural resources.
The program was authorized by Congress in 1970, and BLM began a YCC program in Interior Alaska in about 1974. According to a 1977 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article, the first Interior Alaska YCC camp was at 60-mile Steese Highway (Cripple Creek campground), but in 1977 the camp moved to the World War II-era Tanacross military airfield site, which was transferred to BLM after the war. (The Big Dipper ice arena here in Fairbanks is the former hanger from the Tanacross airfield.)
The YCC operated out of tents at the Tanacross Camp through the 1970s. A 1976 BLM report of YCC projects in Eastern Interior Alaska contains a sketch map of the site showing half a dozen tent sites, plus the wellhouse, sanitation facilities, and a kitchen area. Kirk Hoessle, who worked with BLM’s YCC program from 1976 to 1980, told me that all the camp facilities were tents except for the the kitchen facility, which was an ATCO unit, and the log wellhouse.
Kirk said that the camp was used for training and team-building, and for R&R between projects. Otherwise the 10-person teams were out in the field, either involved with construction or maintenance projects (such as building the Wickersham Creek trail shelter in the White Mountains) or participating in resource inventory activities.
When I visited the Tanacross site in 2012 the tent platforms were gone, replaced by 8’x16’ wood-frame plywood-sheathed buildings on post-and-pad foundations. The wood buildings weren’t used for long, though. The YCC program lost Congressional funding in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected president. (Some states, seeing the benefit of YCC activities, continued it at the state level, and, beginning in 1992, the YCC and similar programs have seen a resurgence at the private, state and federal level.)
At the federal level, the YCC limped along after 1980 with agencies providing funds from their operating budgets. At some point during the 1980s BLM ended its Interior Alaska YCC program, mothballing the Tanacross camp. When I visited, the metal-roofed wood-frame buildings were still in good condition, but the sod-roofed wellhouse showed a definite lack of maintenance. If you look closely at the drawing, those are trees growing out of the wellhouse roof.
All the YCC camp buildings except for the wellhouse are gone now. After a windstorm in the fall of 2012 wreaked havoc in the Tanancross and Tok area, the YCC camp was cleaned up, and the wood-frame buildings, which were undamaged, were moved to the nearby Tanacross Native village.
Now, except for the wellhouse and a few isolated pipes and other debris poking through the forest duff, nothing is left of the camp—save for a small stand of lodgepole pine. Colin Cogley, a current BLM recreation specialist, told me that near where the camp used to be is a small stand of the trees. Lodgepole pine are not native to Alaska. Perhaps a YCC crew planted a few pines as a team-building experience, and those trees thrived—testament to a neglected but important part of Interior Alaska history.
- “BLM Projects for the Fortymile Resource Area.” Merdith Lockwood & James Bell. Bureau of Land Management. 1976
- Conversation with Kirk Hoessle, former BLM employee who worked with YCC program
- Conversation with Colin Cogley, BLM recreation specialist
- “The Modern Corps Movement.” From “CCC Legacy,” on the Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy website, <ccclegacy.org>
- “Youths at Work and Play.” In Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. 6-18-1997