Niceville in line to receive bronze Civilian Conservation Corps worker statue

Tony Judnich
Northwest Florida Daily News

NICEVILLE — The newest, 6-foot-tall bronze statue of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worker is anticipated to soon find a home in Niceville, which was the site of the first CCC camp in Florida, the only one in Okaloosa County and one of the first in the United States.

From 1933 to 1942, about 400 unemployed single men, ages 18 to 35, served a variety of roles in the Niceville area as members of two companies of the CCC. Created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the early years of the Great Depression, the CCC was an emergency relief agency that provided jobs for more 3 million men at camps around the country.

This statue of a Civilian Conservation Corps worker will be placed at Turkey Creek Park in Niceville.

How it started:Remembering the men of the CCC

More Niceville history:Gaetz introduces bill to name Niceville Post Office in honor of Doolittle Raiders

In other Niceville news:Niceville High School lands in U.S. News' top 50 of Florida's 'best' high schools

Among other tasks, the men of the CCC in Niceville built and improved roads, constructed bridges and fire lookout towers, planted thousands of trees and helped build bombing sites at Eglin Field. Of the $30 they were paid each month, the men kept $5 and sent $25 home to their families.

Overall, the CCC program “helped lift America out of the darkness of Depression and into the sunshine of better times,” then-U.S. Sen. Jennings Randolph said in 1983.

Esmond Griner, right, served as a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Niceville.

The CCC worker statue will be placed at Turkey Creek Park, said Joan Sharpe, president of CCC Legacy.

Established in 2007, the nonprofit, Edinburg, Virginia-based CCC Legacy organization is an advocate for CCC alumni and strives to bring awareness to the heritage of the corps.

Sharpe on Thursday said while the new statue was completed April 21, she didn’t know when it would arrive in Niceville.

“We’re still waiting for the transportation to be set up,” she said. “The statue hasn’t left the studio (in Michigan) yet.”

Elisa Mitchiner spearheaded fundraising efforts to help install a statue of a Civilian Conservation Corps member in Niceville. The finished statue will look similar to the one pictured here at O'Leno State Park near High Springs, Florida.

Sharpe credited Elisa Mitchiner, who is a fifth-generation Niceville resident and a local historian, for her years of investigating the history of local CCC workers.

According to information researched and compiled by Mitchiner for her encyclopedic website, boggyflorida.com, local CCC workers had a temporary camp at the Niceville High School grounds (today’s Lula J. Edge Elementary) before moving to a permanent camp on land adjacent to the Jackson Ranger Station in Niceville. 

Sharpe also praised Mitchiner for her years of spearheading fundraising efforts to pay the $22,000 cost of the statue.

Various donors contributed money through the nonprofit Niceville Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Mitchiner could not be reached for comment about the statue project.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) is a public work relief program for unemployed young men age 18-24, providing unskilled manual labor related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural areas of the United States.  Here, a laborer works on overhead wiring, July 26, 1940.

The statue for Niceville will be the 77th CCC worker statue in the U.S., Sharpe said.

“The statue program started in 1995 by some CCC boys in Michigan,” she added. 

Sharpe said CCC Legacy began promoting the statue program with the 44th statue. While all of the worker statues look alike, the one for Niceville will be the first to contain the CCC Legacy copyright logo. It was placed on the worker’s axe.