CPS Camp No. 39, a National Park Service base camp located south of Galax, Virginia and operated by Mennonite Central Committee, opened in June 1942 and closed in March 1943. The men maintained the Blue Ridge Parkway and fought fires.
The Mennonites administered four camps at National Park Service sites, the first of which was located fifteen miles south of Galax, Virginia on the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains and just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The camp opened in June 1942 and closed in March 1943.
Directors: Paul Roth, John Duerksen
Dietician: May Smucker
Nurse-Matron: Orpah Mosemann
The men in Mennonite Central Committee operated camps tended to report on entry into CPS affiliation with predominantly Mennonite groups. Many also came from rural settings or small towns.
Fifty-nine percent reported their occupations upon entry into CPS as farming or other agricultural work. On average, men in Mennonite camps had completed 10.45 years of education, with nearly twenty-two percent having completed one or more years of college, had graduated, or enrolled in graduate and postgraduate work. (Sibley and Jacob pp. 171-172)
To maintain the parkway, the men were responsible to “Remove any material which might fall on the parkway, slope the banks adjoining the road according to good landscape standards, seed the banks in grass, build rustic wood fences, cut unsightly brush in the various fields and streams along the parkway, and spread lime in nearby fields and meadows”. (from Mennonite Central Committee CPS News Letter, April 7, 1943 quoted in Gingerich p. 149.)
Keim reports that men often derided park maintenance and referred to it as “vista-schnitten”, cutting trees and underbrush to open up views over the Shenandoah Valley. (p. 49)
Men divided into three crews of twenty-five men to perform different fire prevention duties on alternate days during March through May, October and November. Some constructed fire trails while others cut dead trees when not fighting fires.
When the work concluded, the camp moved to Three Rivers, California some eighty miles north of Fresno.
The men published a camp paper Blue Ridge Bugle for two months from January through April of 1943
For more information on Mennonite National Park Service base camps see Melvin Gingerich, Service for Peace: A History of Mennonite Civilian Public Service. Akron, PA: Mennonite Central Committee printed by Herald Press, Scottdale, PA 1949, Chapter XII, pp. 149-161.
See Kevin Grange, “In Good Conscience”, National Parks (Winter 2011) http://www.ncpa.org/magazine/2011/winter/in-good-conscience.html?
For general information on CPS camps see Albert N. Keim, The CPS Story: An Illustrated History of Civilian Public Service. Intercourse, PA: Good Books 1990.
See also Mulford Q. Sibley and Philip E. Jacob, Conscription of Conscience: The American State and the Conscientious Objector, 1940-1947. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1952.
Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Camp periodicals database.