Lava Beds Maintenance Crew Re-Engineers CCC Picnic Tables

by Annie Cornett

Built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), several picnic tables located within Lava Beds National Park recently required restoration in order to replace the top, wood surface which had slowly deteriorated over the years.  According to Don Bowen, Chief of Maintenance at Lava Beds National Park, it was typical for the park to replace the table tops every 15-20 years, but it became apparent during the most recent restoration that accessible tables would need to be provided.

CCC picnic table with new extended top for wheelchair access.
CCC picnic table with new extended top for wheelchair access.

Created as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a public relief program developed in response to rising unemployment rates which occurred during the Great Depression. Young men ages 18-25, were employed through the program to provide unskilled manual labor for projects related to conservation and the development of natural resources. By the end of the program in 1942, 2.5 million men had participated completing projects ranging from planting trees in an attempt to reforest America and developing forest fighting methods, to assisting with the construction of more than 800 national parks.

Lava Beds National Park, located in northeastern California, is just one of the many parks CCC crews were assigned to assist in developing. Credited with installing the first power and telephone lines, creating roads, developing extensive trail systems, and building the first superintendent’s residence and headquarters (where the current Visitor’s Center now stands) , the CCC was instrumental in creating many of elements within the park that are still present and utilized today.   Since many of the projects were constructed prior to formal accessibility standards or design considerations of people with disabilities, park maintenance staff is often challenged with retrofitting the projects to make them accessible.
With no nearby accessible units, the decision was made to convert one of the original CCC designs to incorporate modern accessibility standards to ensure accessible picnic tables. “The extra cost was not that much.” said Bowen when comparing the redesign to the original restoration costs-- a reality that is often true of many projects which incorporate accessible or universal design concepts from the very beginning of the development process. Such a decision not only preserved the history of the facility, but also ensures all individuals can experience it as well.