All-girl Youth Conservation Camp described as ‘pigtails – and hard hats’
Editor’s note: This feature continues the series by Ozark County Times reporters Jessi Dreckman and Amelia Lamair describing a hidden-away bit of history in the Mark Twin National Forest just north of Ozark County in the community once known as Siloam Springs.
A Youth Conservation Camp (YCC) established at Hay Hollow, an area of the Mark Twain National Forest, brought nearly a decade of hard work and fun days for teens across the country.
The land that once housed a fishing and hunting resort called the Braddock Lake Lodge run by Walter and Ruby Braddock, (see “Ruins of farm and resort, hidden away in national forest, spark curiosity” in the July 18, 2018, edition of the Times), was transformed into a work- and education-oriented summer camp for dozens of teens in 1971. Today the site is located on Forest Service Road 759 just past the Ozark-Douglas County line a few miles northeast of Dora,
In the summer, the Forest Service transitioned about 35 employees from their normal jobs to become camp counselors, work leaders and crew leaders for 70 girls ages 15 to 18. The girls came from all over the state to attend the camp, staying in bunkhouses on the property and working for the forest service in a variety of labor-intensive and environmentally focused tasks throughout the day. The girls would complete a full day of labor, spending their evenings floating the waters of the North Fork of the White River, roasting marshmallows around a campfire and picking tunes on a guitar, among other laid-back activities. Each camper was paid $38.50 per week, and each paycheck came with an additional benefit: an education. Forest Service employees and other environmental experts provided the girls with detailed explanations of why they were completing the work, and what it took to keep America’s lands beautiful.
Written about, near - and far
Those days of sweat-drenched work and summertime fun in the Mark Twain National Forest and on the banks of the North Fork of the White River come alive in articles slipped inside a dusty folder in a filing cabinet in the Ava office of the Mark Twain National Forrest. The news stories from Hay Hollow’s YCC days tell tales of a fun and challenging program that set out to change the way youth interacted with the natural area around them. Featured in several pieces from newspapers ranging from Willow Springs News, West Plains Daily Quill, Cabool Enterprise, Springfield News-Leader and St. Louis Post Dispatch, Hay Hollow seemed to be widely publicized during its operating years.
In a particularly interesting article titled “Girls’ Touch Adds Beauty to the Land,” in the Kansas City Times on July 29, 1971, staff writer Margaret Olwine described a visit to the camp. Her visit, which she dubbed a tale of “pigtails – and hard hats,” began with Olwine turning into the drive to the Hay Hollow camp and passing a crew of girls eating sack lunches on their noon break. A chief ranger explained to Olwine that that particular group of girls had been stuck with the least popular of the 18 work assignments at the camp, operating tree-jabbers, a 20-pound tool with a pointed end that the girls hurled into the trunks of trees. The jabbers released a poisonous chemical into the trees, Olwine explained, which allowed the workers to thin the growth of thick areas of forest.
“Many of them got uptight over the thought of destroying trees…We had a forester explain to them about timber management, that a forest, to be beautiful and healthy, must be weeded. Like a garden, you might say,” Bill Moriarity, manager of the Willow Springs district of the Mark Twain National Forest, told Olwine. This marriage of hands-on work and education was really the key to the program, Moriarity said.
“The goal as far as the Forest Service is concerned is to teach young persons how natural resources are managed – how they must be managed wisely to be preserved and protected,” Olwine wrote.
In 1971, when the article was written, the Hay Hollow camp was one of the largest in the country, and one of only two that were experimenting with an all-girl crew. Olwine wrote that the reasoning behind the all-female camp was “that girls are intensely interested in environmental matters and ache to supplant talk with action.”
Moriarity told Olwine, “They are slower than boys because they have less strength. But they do the job just as well, maybe even better… We have quite a few slogans floating around the camp… One is ‘Learn, Work, Earn.’ Another is ‘Quality, Not Quantity.’ Every job we assign is a job that needs doing, and it’s important that it be done right.”
Olwine described the rest of her visit, seeing girls completing a variety of physically laborious tastes. At 4:45 p.m., after a full day of work, the campers rushed to get mail and hit the showers, Olwine wrote, in preparation for 6 p.m. dinner, which was served buffet style on a screened-in porch. Olwine said even the small girls had huge appetites after the hearty workday. Olwine’s visit ended with the girls boarding a bus to a West Plains laundromat as their washing machine had just died the night before; however, most other nights included educational programs presented by experts including the director of Springfield’s Dickerson Park Zoo, a landscape architect with the Mark Twain National Forest, a fisheries specialist from the Missouri Conservation Commission and the secretary of the Conservation Federation of Missouri.
Olwine summed up her trip by writing, “As for girls tossing tree-jabbers, swinging picks and accomplishing conservation work that really counts, the work is there to see. Thanks to girl power…”
Murrell’s days at Hay Hollow
James Murrell, who began his career with the National Forest Service on March 31, 1971, the day before his 21st birthday, and retired from the organization in 2011, remembers his time working at the Hay Hollow camp fondly.
“I was a crew leader there from about 1973 to 1978,” Murnell told the Times recently. “My main job [with the Forest Service] at that time was working with the range program, grazing and that sort of thing, and then in the summers I spent my work days over at the camp.”
Murrell, who was familiar with the Braddock Lake Lodge, having lived about 8 miles up the road on AP Highway his whole life, said his time working at the camp was fun and interesting.
“It really was a good program, because you’d bring in a complete mixture of kids. There were kids from the inner city and country kids, and everything in between. Some of the kids had never stepped foot outside of a city,” Murrell said. “There was a pretty broad spectrum of different elements the campers were exposed to, and it gave them a chance to earn a little extra money in the summer. It wasn’t a lot back in the early ’70. At that time I think I was making $2.85 per hour as a Forest Service employee, so the campers were making a lot less than that. But it was a little something in their pockets.”
Murrell served as crew leader of the range-management part of the workdays, helping campers build barbed-wire fence and complete other field-related projects. He said the campers were split into crews of five to six girls, and each crew worked with a different crew leader every day for a week. The crews rotated until all the campers had spent a week in each of the six different jobs.
A favorite part of working at the camp was watching the diverse group of campers learn and grow, he said.
“One day we were building a barbed-wire fence on the grazing lot, and we were putting smooth wire out on the brace posts that particular day,” Murrell said. “This inner- Kansas City camper asked, ‘So, do we put the barbs on the wire or what?’ And there was this big laugh and several kids were teasing. But I told them, you have to take this all in perspective. This was all new to some campers. If you were to drop me in the middle of Kansas City and ask me to find my way out, I’d be totally lost. But that particular camper would be the one to lead us to find the way out. We all have certain things we know and certain things still to learn.”
Murrell continued to serve as crew leader at the camp until 1978, when he transitioned within the forest service to a new job.
“There was never a dull day. It was a really good experience for them - and for myself as well. You learned things you never thought about, and I’ve run into some of the young ladies now who have children of their own that are almost old enough to have attended the camp,” Murrell said. “They always say they wished the program was still running because they’d love for their kids to that experience. I think that’s how you really know it was a successful program.”
Murrell said sometime in 1979 or 1980, the campers buried a time capsule at Hay Hollow. The Times was unable to verify whether any Forest Service employees intend to open it.
Continued in next week Times.