A trailblazer to the corps

MARYSVILLE – As a young man, Walt Bailey honed his trail-making skills in what affectionately became known as Roosevelt’s Tree Army, Soil Soldiers or the 3Cs.

It was the 1930s and early 1940s and the United States was still foundering in the Great Depression. People were hungry and the young men who joined the Civilian Conservation Corps were no exception.

“The city kids who came into the 3Cs were starving,” Bailey said last week. “They gained about 11 pounds in the first month or so.”

The organization, which was credited with building durable structures and accomplishing a lot of other outdoor and conservation work, is about to celebrate its 74th birthday. And finally it is getting recognition from politicians, Bailey said.

Local alumni of the fabled 3Cs, including Bailey, are scheduled to travel by bus to Olympia today for the signing of a proclamation by Gov. Chris Gregoire. Last week, Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon and council president Dave Gossett signed a proclamation also extolling the virtues of the corps.

Those who served are getting recognition now, said Bailey, 87, because the generation of surviving corps workers is dwindling with time.

“Maybe it’s because we’re going to leave this place before too many more years,” Bailey said.

The organization, created by President Franklin Roosevelt, existed only nine years, from 1933 to 1942. The start of World War II ended the corps.

Bailey joined the Army a few months before Pearl Harbor. He was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked in December 1941.

When the war came, the corps provided a ready supply of mechanics, cooks, heavy equipment operators and a lot more jobs for the military, Bailey said.

Alumni remember their time in the corps fondly.

Bailey spent one of his two years with the corps at Darrington and Verlot east of Granite Falls. The second was spent at a corps camp in Whatcom County near Mount Baker.

He recalls being paid $30 a month. All but $5 was sent home. The government also supplied food and medical care.

A lifelong rural Marysville-area resident, Bailey said a typical day consisted of jumping into a truck “and heading out for a day of digging ditches and cutting brush.”

He learned firefighting in the woods, laid the first telephone lines connecting Verlot and Granite Falls and helped build structures and trails in the local mountains.

After the war, Bailey worked more than three decades at Weyerhaeuser plants in Everett, but he never lost his fervor for the outdoors.

When he was in his 70s, Bailey scouted, flagged and partly built a brand new trail in his beloved Verlot area. Mostly in the Mount Pilchuck Conservation Area, the 3.5-mile trail from Mallardy Ridge to a pocket of beautiful little lakes, Cutthroat Lakes, is named after Bailey.

Bailey is proud of the accomplishments of the corps.

In Washington alone, the corps is responsible for building more than 1,800 bridges and 320 fire lookouts. The corps installed 26,000 miles of telephone line and stocked 3.3 million fish in rivers and lakes.

Stonework at roadside viewpoints, structures at Verlot itself and much more are counted as the fruits of corps hands.

Across the country, some 800 state parks, including Deception Pass State Park, were built by corps workers. Nearly 3.5 million men were employed in the corps over the nine years.

“Just look at the state parks in this country and you’ll see what they did,” Bailey said.

Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or haley@heraldnet.com.

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