The History Behind Lake Willougby

CCC CampBURKE- On Friday, March 16, community members gathered together at the Burke Mountain Club to listen to a presentation about the CCC Camp 55 hosted by Friends of Willoughby State Forest. 

 Lake Willoughby is known for it's beauty on the water overlooking the mountains. The community members of Westmore, Vermont, were eager to learn about the lake’s history. Jean Haigh, who instructed the presentation, explained she wanted people to know more about the history and while visitors were traveling through Lake Willoughby, they could have the chance to imagine the historical events that occurred while hiking through the lake. 

Two presenters, both of which are Northeast Kingdom natives, shared their knowledge. William Hall went on to explain his experiences in the forest from his early childhood.

Wile showing a picture from his childhood, he explained,“We would always play on this rock, which was well known for the Civilian Conservation Corps.” 

Hall continued by explaining how his family cherrished the beauty of the lake.

“We’d all go out to hike Willoughby and I always remembered my family and I enjoying all of the nature. That’s when I decided to do some research to find out it’s history.” 

The program, Civilian Conservation Corps, began by the Emergency Conservation Act. It was a program that offered camps throughout 48 states. For this nine-year period, young men came together to enhance the nature and beauty of the trails. 

The camp site is present today at Lake Willoughby. Camp site 55 is surrounded by beautiful trees. According to Haigh, not many tourists understand the background of Camp 55. 

During this presentation, Haigh explained she wasn’t sure how many people would come. There were about thirty people who gathered together to learn. Haigh has grown passionately as a native to Vermont. Her experiences with hiking trails grows each year, however, Willoughby’s trails hold a special place in her heart.

“I just want people to understand though Lake Willoughby is beautiful, there’s so much history behind it’s appearance. I think it has a great story that needs to be told.” 

During the second half of the presentation, Luke O’Brien, Recreation Specialist in the St. Johnsbury office of the Vermont Department of Forest, Parks, and Recreation, presented the community with a slide show about the original camp and gave people a chance to feel like they were living in the moment of Camp 55. The photos contained footage of men working, the camp before it began, and images of the trails along Lake Willoughby. 

“I enjoy coming to talk to the community about Lake Willoughby’s history. I know it is the heart of some people’s fondest memories, so for them to get more information about the lake is really cool to see. I'm happy to see there was a good turnout,” said O’Brien. 

Haigh is very eager to enhance Lake Willoughby’s beauty by receiving grants to secure funds that will support financial needs as well as labor. Towards the end of the presentation, Haigh received lots of feedback from the community to do another presentation held at Burke Mountain Resort. 

“I didn’t think this many people would come, but they want another presentation in a bigger room so it’s not so crammed. I love the idea, and I love how fascinated the community is,” Haigh explained.