The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 31, 2012

Last known survivors of Roaring River CCC crew reflect on construction of state park

CASSVILLE, Mo. — Whenever Carson McMurtrey returned to his hometown of Stella to visit friends and family, he tried to include a trip to Roaring River State Park.

The park is famous for its trout fishing, but McMurtrey didn’t care about that.

“I always looked for my building blocks,” he said.

McMurtrey, now a resident of Bakersfield, Calif., is believed to be one of the last living members of Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1713, which spent 1933 to 1939 improving the park that had just been acquired by the state of Missouri a few years earlier.

In fact, McMurtrey and Noman Nichols, who lives near Jane, may be all that’s left of the company that built the cabins, lodge, roads, trails, hatchery and more.

‘The greatest thing’

Both men said the CCC was a lifesaver during a tough time.

“The future was not too bright: no job, no money, no home, no father, no experience. Just a farm boy with no farm,” McMurtrey, now 93, wrote in a recent letter, describing conditions during the Great Depression. “God bless President (Franklin) Roosevelt who saw the need and did something about it.”

In a phone interview, McMurtrey shared more details about a life that started on a 120-acre farm on the line between McDonald and Newton counties.

Born Feb. 14, 1919, he was the last of eight children; his father had died the previous November in the world’s worst flu epidemic on record.

Despite living through the Dust Bowl years and having a tough time with crops and the family’s 15 milk cows, McMurtrey remembers his childhood as a good one.

But when graduation came around for his high school class of 12, jobs were scarce. His mother had, like many from the area, headed west to California.

“My time in the CCC was the greatest thing that could have happened,” he said.

His company’s duty, he said, “was to prepare Roaring River State Park for the future as a landmark for Missouri to be proud of. The area was beautiful. We were to construct some buildings, pathways, etc.”

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