They built the Panther Meadows campground and part of Everitt Memorial Highway. They built the Mount Bradley lookout and other lookouts in our region.
They were the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and they left a legacy of public works as they struggled to survive the Great Depression. CCC crew members received $30 a month plus room and board in a work camp.
Most of them were from the Bay Area, and they were quartered at what is now the Sims Flat Campground just off the I-5 freeway south of Castella. To get to the campground and see what remains of the CCC camp, take the Sims exit off the freeway, head east and follow the winding road to the campground.
Near camp site 17, just off the main campground road, there’s a set of moss-covered stone steps that led up to the CCC’s headquarters, and a placard that tells you a little about the CCC’s legacy in our region.
At the entrance to the campground there’s a more imposing historic artifact in the form of an old suspension bridge across the Sacramento River. As a placard at the foot of the bridge tells us, it was the first major construction project undertaken by CCC crews in the United States.
According to Raymond Huber, the bridge project’s supervisor, he and his CCC boys put the thing together on a wing and a promise: “I was given a pickup and a plan of a 160-foot suspension bridge ... and no real books or regulations. Well, we made our regulations as we went along. We finally worried our way through and completed our bridge in September 1933.”
And you can walk across it today.
There’s more local history just up the road, at the site of another suspension bridge over the river. It’s the site of the original Castle Rock Mineral Springs Bottling Works and a hotel and resort from the 1890s.
To get there, you take the Castella exit off I-5 and head north on the Frontage Road east of the freeway. Park at the end of the shoulder on the right side of the road about a quarter mile past Riverside Road.
You’ll see an opening through a fence and a brown sign that says “River Trail.” Go through the opening and follow the trail through a tunnel under the railroad tracks. You’ll soon come upon the other suspension bridge, a smaller one that sways a little with every step you take.
Once across, go to the right through a picnic area, skirting along the river until you come to a placard marking the site of the hotel and the bottling company. The rock wall that lined the mineral springs is still there. Castle Rock mineral water had a wide-ranging reputation. It was shipped all around the country and to other parts of the world. The Venezuelan Consulate in Panama City had a standing order of 50 cases a month. The company went out of business shortly after the stock market crash of 1929.
While you’re there you might want to take a short hike along the river just north of the bridge. The trail is just over a mile long, an easy one for both kids and adults, with a number of well-maintained wooden bridges. To the west, past the river, the rugged Crags sprout up out of the forest at various places along the trail.
The trail, historic site, and picnic area are part of Castle Crags State Park.
All in all, it’s a nice way to get acquainted with some local history while getting in a little recreation too.