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Rick Brockway

April 18, 2014

Gilbert Lake brings back fond memories

A friend posted on Facebook some pictures of him and his daughter fishing at Gilbert Lake.

That sure brought back memories, because I have lived within five miles of that beautiful, tree-bordered lake for most of my life. Gilbert Lake is nestled in the low Catskill foothills and draws hundreds of people annually to camp and enjoy its tranquil setting. 

I grew up spending warm summer days, swimming in the cool water. Other times I’ve fished for the brook trout that abound in its depths.

As I write this morning, I am reminded of class picnics at the lake. One of my elementary teachers told us a story about the history of Gilbert Lake. It seems her father joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and helped build the state park.

Because of the Great Depression of the 1930s, thousands of young men were out of work. There were very few jobs, so in 1933 Franklin Roosevelt created the CCC to put people back to work. It was run by the U.S. Army and humorously was referred to as Roosevelt’s Tree Army. Most state parks such as Gilbert Lake as well as hundreds of other conservation projects are the results of the CCC’s efforts.

We were told Gilbert Lake was much smaller than it is today. Much of the lake that exists was a swamp that the men dug out by hand, loaded wagons, and moved the dirt and mud to the hilltops surrounding the lake. They built roads, constructed the many stone buildings, planted trees and created most of the 221 campsites and 31 cabins that are still in use each summer.

Today, the New York State Civilian Conservation Corps Museum is housed at Gilbert Lake. There are photos and artifacts of those years past. The history of the CCC and Company 212 can be found there, and the museum is in the same building as the concession stand at the beach.

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Rick Brockway

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