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Report commemorates Civilian Conservation Corps 70th anniversary

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., May 30, 2003 - The National Park Service (NPS) published a report this week on the history of Big Spring Historic District written by Dr. Bonnie Stepenoff, associate professor of history at Southeast Missouri State University.

Stepenoff's site history of Big Spring Historic District, which was originally Big Spring State Park, has been published in conjunction with the 70th anniversary celebration of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the Big Spring area near Van Buren, Mo. The report, which focuses on the history of Big Spring and the work done by the CCC, has been published as a commemorative booklet to honor the organization that helped build America's state and national parks during the Depression.

The Big Spring area, which encompasses one of the largest and most beautiful natural cold springs in the United States, became one of Missouri's earliest state parks in 1924. In 1969, the State of Missouri gave the park to the federal government, creating the Big Springs Historic District. The former state park became an integral part of the National Park Service's Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR), which is headquartered in Van Buren, Mo.

"The Big Spring Historic District is steeped with architectural, as well as natural beauty, courtesy of the Depression-era projects of the CCC," Stepenoff said.

Beginning in 1933, the CCC did conservation work in the area and constructed numerous park buildings, including a stone lodge and cabins. The workers also built bridges, shelters, culverts, roads, trails and other buildings and structures of great architectural distinction in the park.

"Three companies of the CCC were employed in the Big Springs area during the 1930s," she said. CCC Company 1710, a group of more than 200 men, was the first on the scene and set up a tent camp in the spring hollow near the entrance to the park. The men in this company, which had trained at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., came from the Missouri counties of Jasper, Linn, Caldwell, Putnam and Chariton. Company 1710 worked at Big Spring for more than four years, being joined for short periods by Companies 734 and 1740.

"The CCC workers' craftsmanship and creativity is responsible for the natural, yet beautiful landscape seen at Big Springs Historic District today," Stepenoff said. "Their work, under the direction of several prominent architects, followed the 'governmental rustic' style in park architecture popularized in the 1930s. The style, which emphasized naturalistic designs that blended harmoniously with their surroundings, was inspired by the American craftsman movement, The English arts and crafts movement and the innovative designs of Frank Lloyd Wright and others," she added.

In addition to the interesting and unique architecture offered at Big Spring Historic District, the area has retained the status it developed in the early 20th century as a popular nature and outdoor lover's paradise. The Ozark National Scenic Riverways encompasses 134 miles of southeast Missouri's Current and Jacks Fork Rivers, providing endless recreational opportunities, including canoeing, tubing, swimming, fishing, johnboating, hiking and hunting. The ONSR boasts seven major springs that supply 60 percent of the rivers' flow. Big Spring alone has an average flow of 276 million gallons of water per day, making it one of the largest in the United States. The park also features 51 smaller springs, more than 300 caves, 112 species of fish, 196 species of birds, 58 species of mammals and 25 species of snakes within its boundaries.

Stepenoff spent much of fall 2002 researching and writing about the Big Spring Historic District.

"I stayed in the Partney House, an old farm house, in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and worked with the folks in the cultural resources program at the Riverways," she said. "It was beautiful, peaceful and a bit adventurous, hearing the coyotes at night and living down a dirt road that was impassable in high water. When it rained, they told me I had to decide which side of the creek I wanted to be on. I enjoyed every minute of it," she added.

More information on the Civilian Conservation Corps and the history of the Big Spring Historic District can be found in Stepenoff's NPS publication, "The Big Spring Historic District: The Civilian Conservation Corps Builds a State Park to Last." Copies can be obtained by contacting the Ozark National Scenic Riverways headquarters in Van Buren, Mo., at (573) 323-4236.

For more information on the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, visit the National Park Service Web site at


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