Interview With Michael W. Downey

From the interview with Michael W. Downey of Redmond, WA conducted by phone by Henry West from the Fort Worden History Center on October 19, 2004. Mr. Downey served in the Youth Conservation Corps group that worked out of Fort Worden in 1976. Here he describes the work and life:

“I just applied for it (the program). It was sought as summer work. My dad worked for the state at the time in Olympia and he brought home an ad for it and I applied. I believe that the kids were selected by lottery. We were paid by the state, and the program was three months long. (At Fort Worden) we lived in an old barracks building right at the base of Artillery Hill.

We did a lot of work in those three months. …the purpose of the program was to enhance the various state parks around the region. There would be different groups of us that would go to the different places…We built trails and then fixed up the campsites, things like that as far as landscaping. Then we were transported and stayed at various locations throughout the state doing the same thing to their parks. We’d be moved around in vans and stay at various cabins, like Forest Service cabins or youth group cabins like the Girl Scouts. There were probably 75 kids and maybe a dozen counselors. It was co-ed.

I’d be up first thing in the morning and then have breakfast, then go to work , have lunch on site and then work until probably 6:00, eat dinner, then we’d have chores to do. Chores were some sort of (thing) like dishes or general maintenance around the camp. Then we’d go to a gym or play basketball or something like that and then go to a movie, go to the laundromat. It was all week with a half day on Saturday. Sunday was off and we could go into town, if we were near a town. We could go downtown Port Townsend with a supervisor. But generally everybody would come back to the base camps on the weekends and then rotate through. The food was excellent. Everybody who worked there just took pride in what they did.

We worked on Whidbey Island,at Fort Casey we were shoring up the fireplaces, the campgrounds and the parking area. It wasn’t nearly as fun as the trail work. Over Wallace Falls, we built a trail up through there. We actually cut trails, the one at Wallace Falls was a big one. There was another group, they were all males that had a run in with the law or something like that, theirs was more or less detention. Often times they’d precede us in an area. They would do the heavy work and then we’d come in and trim the trails out, shore them up and that sort of thing. We also worked over on the Ozette up by Neah Bay.

…It was a great thing to be part of. It was during the Bicentennial party. It was about building up and making America better, starting at the parks and cleaning up the parks. It was rewarding. The supervisors were truly unique individuals and they cared a lot about the environment and they wanted to give back. They were good role models. It’s something that stayed with me my entire life. From that I went on to school to become a ranger.”

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