Montana Conservation Corps Spruces up Spruce Park Cabin

Article, written by Jalmer Johnson, appears on MCC KCrew Blog. Published July 14, 2014.

As this year marks the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Wilderness Act it seems appropriate to reflect not only upon what wilderness itself means, but also the actions we have taken to protect the wilderness over the past half century.  Our crew recently spent several weeks at Spruce Park Cabin in the Great Bear Wilderness.  The building is part of a network of cabins utilized by rangers as waypoints as they patrol the woods.  All of these cabins are more than half a century in age, and many are currently being authorized as historic buildings. 

Spruce Park cabin is among the newest of the cabins, however, due to erosion along the cliff side that overlooks the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, the cabin will soon collapse into the river.  To save the cabin the Forest Service has begun a lengthy project to move the cabin several hundred feet away from the river, and our crew was lucky enough to assist in the preparations to move, and save the cabin later in the summer.

Due to the various restrictions that come with working in a Wilderness Area (mainly the ban on anything motorized, but also the remoteness) we became very aware of the difficulties, and, at the same time, the pleasures of working exclusively with tools powered by ourselves alone.  We began by clearing the trail of fallen trees, using a crosscut saw in lieu of our chainsaws.  Our work at the cabin itself saw us assisting with projects both with experts brought in by the Forest Service, and on our own that prepared the cabin for it’s big move later in the summer. 

Accomplishing difficult tasks, such as cutting trees several feet thick or transporting thousand pound trees, with nothing but our hands was an empowering experience.  An experience that constantly reminded me of Henry David Thoreau’s famous observation from Walden: “Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.”  This, in my opinion, is both the beauty, and the importance, of the wilderness today.  Our work at the cabin allowed us to take time and admire the awesome power of the river below us, or to stop and observe the fragility of life at the finding of a dead bird.

Our work at the cabin also helped connect us with the past.  We were reminded of the work the early rangers put in to create our wilderness infrastructure in National Forests, and National Parks.  More than that we were keenly aware of the difficulties, and satisfaction felt by all who had worked with only their hands, bereft of the power provided by modern technology. 

Such an intimate connection with the land around me, and the work in front of me, is what I will remember most about my time at Spruce Park Cabin, and is not an experience I will soon forget.