2022 Historic Preservation Award | Wisconsin Historical Society

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2022 Historic Preservation Award Winner Announced

2022 Historic Preservation Award | Wisconsin Historical Society

This award recognizes the contributions of an individual or organization to the field of historic preservation and preservation efforts in Wisconsin. Jim Bokern has received the 2022 Historic Preservation Award from the Wisconsin Historical Society for his work documenting and interpreting the CCC Camp Mercer site.

About the Project

The Documentation and Interpretation of CCC Camp Mercer site (47 IR-42)

Historic Property: CCC Camp Mercer site (47 VI-42) is located in southeastern Iron County within the boundary of the Northern Highland-American Legion (NHAL) State Forest. It consists of five components: 1) the Civilian Conservation Corps 660th Company camp; 2) the LaPorte family logging camp; 3) an un-associated logging camp; 4) a series of structures that may be associated with local moonshining activities; and 5) features associated with post-abandonment activities.

Description of Project: At the Annual Local History and Historic Preservation Conference in 2017, Mr. Jim Bokern of the Manitowish Waters Historical Society (MWHS) approached Wisconsin's State Archaeology program about what he and MWHS might do to help preserve the CCC Camp Mercer site. Before Mr. Bokern became involved, the nature and extent of the archaeological deposits at the site were unknown, the archival and other historical material had not been synthesized, agency officials and the public were not aware of the importance of the site, the sites features were hidden by vegetation, and no interpretative material was available. As a result, the area was subjected to logging and ground disturbing land management practices.

Mr. Bokern's on-the-ground work established the boundaries of all five site components. His work revealed that the CCC camp layout was intact and that most of the camps major building foundations were present and could be identified. It also revealed that two different types of logging components were present near the CCC camp, both previously unreported. The possible moonshining component was also unrecorded. As a result, the total site area presented the opportunity to preserve several aspects of Wisconsin's late-19th and early-20th century history.

While documenting the extant features at the site was a critical step in the site's preservation, Mr. Bokern realized that public outreach and education was key to the sites long-term preservation. Consequently, he gathered the archival historical material associated with the CCC camp and logging components and created webpages on the MWHS website.

He also made people aware of the importance of the site through numerous presentations, for instance in the 2021 Historic Preservation and Local History Conference and in a class through FE University in Iron County. Working closely with NHAL Forest staff, Jim proposed the development of a heritage trail that would create support for the preservation of the site through public education and by incorporating the trail into local tourism initiatives. NHAL staff, MWHS volunteers, and Iron County Outdoor Recreational Enthusiasts (ICORE) volunteers cleared vegetation from the foundations and MWHS funded the debris removal.

Together DNR, MWHS, and the Forest History Association of Wisconsin funded and installed 22 interpretative signs. The trail winds through the CCC camp and the two logging components and is tied into an existing trail system. The interpretive signs provide the visitor with detailed insights into important aspects of Wisconsin's CCC and logging history. In addition to the DNR and ICORE, Mr. Bokern established partnerships with MECCA Trails to maintain the trail, and with the Mercer Public Library to host the Mercer CCC camp website.

The history of CCC Camp Mercer is now accessible to the public. It is one of only two interpreted CCC camp locations in Wisconsin and is unique in the combination of CCC camp with other components. The consortium of partners Mr. Bokern assembled, and the way the trail is woven into the existing trail system, will preserve an important Wisconsin historic place.

Mr. Bokern's body of work has returned a lost and scarce resource to the people of Wisconsin. That he has been able to engage with local experts with others from across the state, as well as the Wisconsin Historical Society and Office of the State Archaeologist, in no small part due to the Annual Local History and Historic Preservation Conference, is proof positive of the impact of outreach.

Inspired individuals who understand their local history can work to uncover a past lost to us and braid it with existing infrastructure. Modern trails can lead us to uncover the story of our past.

About the Preservation Award

This award recognizes the best work in protecting a threatened historic property in Wisconsin. The historic property may be a building, structure, object, site or district. Commendable community and individual efforts such as advocacy, fundraising, creation of a protective ordinance, physical stabilization, and repair will be recognized.

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