The old-timers call it Lake Fegan.
Most Kansans know it as the Woodson State Fishing Lake, located in the Chautauqua Hills in what is one of the most beautiful parts of Kansas. The region is known for its huge boulders and trees, some dating back more than 300 years.
But in the 1930s, Lake Fegan was one of the focal points in Kansas for the CCC – the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program designed to provide jobs for young men and veterans.
Residents in Woodson County are honoring those CCC workers on June 9 at the dedication of a new Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism office building. The office building will also house the archives of the CCC that built Lake Fegan and a memorial statue to the CCC enrollees.
In the 1930s, the huge, unrelenting clouds of black dust on the plains affected not only crops but morale. The statewide unemployment rate reached 26 percent in 1932.
It was that year that Franklin D. Roosevelt, running for president, announced his New Deal. The idea was to bring work and people together, and after Roosevelt took office, many agencies were set up to achieve that goal.
From 1933 to 1942, one of those agencies, the Civilian Conservation Corps, brought workers together throughout the nation to build conservation and environmental projects.
The first three Kansas CCC projects were in Kingman, Lyon and Woodson Counties.
Dirt was dug and carried in mule-drawn wagons; later, bulldozers did the earthmoving. An average of 200 men worked each day on the project through its completion. All told, there were 620 men who worked on the 2 ½-year project. . The lake was named after Ben Fegan, who owned the land the lake was located on.
According to the Kansas State Historical Society, the number of camp locations in the state varied from 21 during the height of the projects in 1936 to 2 in 1942 when the CCC was disbanded.
Camps were located throughout the state. The majority of the men were in their late teens and 20s. Veterans groups were also created to put unemployed veterans to work. For example, Marion County Lake was built by 250 black veterans of the Spanish-American War and World War I.
On June 15, 1933, the Toronto Republican celebrated the news:
“The streets here were the scene of some celebration this noon when the word came through that all was well, and rightly there should have been for this project is a big one and one that has been worked for very hard by local men and sportsmen.”