Restoring life to a weathered shelter

The sound of hammers filled the air on a recent cool summer day at Clear Lake Resort as staff and volunteers with HistoriCorps made repairs to the log picnic shelter that has stood through rain and snow for more than 90 years.

A Civilian Conservation Corps project from the 1930s, the shelter is showing its age. It now boasts a new hand-split cedar shake roof, a refurbished lava stone fireplace and some new logs to replace ones battered by time.

Jason Benson, who hails from northwest Washington, and Remy Buxton of Corvallis, are the only paid staff members on this project. The others taking part over coming weeks are all volunteers.

Although this is his first season with the program, Benson, a self-described “carpenter/preservationist,” has been fixing up old things since he was 5 years old and helped his parents rehabilitate a 1914 farm. He earned a bachelor’s degree in botany and plant biology at the University of Washington, did trail work and then became a preservationist with the National Park Service. He’s been restoring historic structures up and down the West Coast for 20 years.

Buxton has a degree in anthropology from the University of Georgia at Athens and joined HistoriCorps in 2021 after volunteering in 2020. He said he loved being outdoors, for work or for pleasure.

Recent volunteers included Eric Acosta, Jeunilyan Stenske and David Freeman with Northwest Youth Corps in Eugene.

HistoriCorps spokeswoman Charlotte Helmer said HistoriCorps’ mission is to inspire a preservation ethic by engaging volunteers to save historic places. “We prioritize experiential, hands-on learning above all else,” she said. 

The program relies on a small cadre of paid staff members and a large contingent of volunteers across all age groups and skill levels.

The concept for HistoriCorps sprang from a project to restore buildings in the Pike-San Isabel National Forest from 2002-2007. In 2009 the U.S. Forest Service approached Colorado Preservation Inc. with the idea of forming a “corps” much like the original Civilian Conservation Corps. Since then, dozens of special places have been saved for future generations.

According to Helmer, HistoriCorps works like a traveling road show, popping up on public lands across the country every year. “Each project is made possible by government partners, generous donors, and passionate volunteers,” she said. 

The Clear Lake picnic shelter restoration project involves the Willamette National Forest, Linn County Parks, Friends of Fish Lake, Northwest Youth Corps, corporate sponsors such as Bon Tool, and 25 volunteers.

“We get every type of volunteer, from retirees to people who take a week’s vacation from work to do this,” Benson said.

The Clear Lake project crew is camping at nearby Fish Lake.

“It’s great fun,” Benson said.

Benson said the Clear Lake project will take about five weeks, plus one week of set-up. Most volunteers work a week at a time. Recently, the Northwest Youth Corps participants installed a new cedar shake roof while Buxton prepared the chimney for a stonemason.

Benson said his crews often repair log structures and guard stations. 

HistoriCorps will complete at least 40 projects this year in 15 states, with eight crews active from March to November. Five projects are slated from Northern California to Central Oregon. The organization recently completed projects to restore Longbow Group Camp in Linn County and several Odd Fellows cabins at Paulina Lake. They worked at the Santiam Pass Ski Lodge in September and October. 

“The types of structures vary by region,” Benson said. “In eastern states, many buildings were masonry oriented.”

He added that it takes some getting used to working with a new crew every week, but volunteers are provided with considerable information beforehand. They camp out, but meals are provided.

“Volunteers get to learn how to use traditional tools, such as a draw knife to remove bark from logs,” Benson said. “They learn that often, the traditional tools are the best tools.”

Volunteer Eric Acosta called the project, “Super cool. It’s so unusual to get to work on a project with so much history behind it.”

Linn County Parks Director Brian Carroll praised the HistoriCorps volunteers.

“The restoration of the historic Clear Lake shelter is such a terrific project,” Carroll said. “Having HistoriCorps there to perform the work, with the help of volunteers, has provided visitors an opportunity to learn about the restoration process.”

– Alex Paul. Linn County Communications Officer

ABOUT HISTORICORPS

· People from all walks of life can volunteer with HistoriCorps.

· No prior construction experience is necessary, but it helps to have a positive attitude and a strong work ethic.

· Projects range in skill levels and degree of difficulty, from easy to difficult, so participants can choose for themselves.

· HistoriCorps provides meals, lodging, tools, training, safety equipment and materials.

· Lodging ranges from tent camping to indoor facilities.

· Travel and access information is available for each project — some projects can only be reached by hiking) or by four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Learn more about HistoriCorps by watching the documentary, “Saving Places”, call 720-287-0100 or visit https://historicorps.org/.

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