DELTA -- Tammy Power tried her hardest not to tear up as she greeted guests to the Civilian Conservation Corps museum for the first time in 18 years.
"This has been my dream," said Power, the superintendent for Cheaha State Park, which on Saturday hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony for the long-closed museum dedicated to the workers who helped build the roads and buildings on top of Alabama's highest point. "This was on my bucket list."
As part of a statewide celebration of the 75th anniversary of Alabama’s state park system, Cheaha State Park on Saturday welcomed visitors to see the beginnings of how the mountain came to be a destination for campers, hikers and tourists. In the 1930s, hundreds of young men came to the mountain as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps project, a New Deal program that gave work to unemployed, single men ages 18 to 25 during the depression. At Cheaha, the corps built campsites, lodges, roads and the observation tower, which now houses the museum dedicated to their history.
"I can't help but wonder if those young men knew what they were building would still be around 75 years later," said Rob Grant, assistant director for Alabama State Parks. "I think this is a great way to honor them."
The museum, which includes tools used by the corps, as well as cots they slept in and blankets used at their camps, originally closed in 1996 for renovations. Power said the park needed a bigger room to hold the material they had. In the meantime, the park displayed other exhibits while working to finish the museum.
Another reason for the delay, Power said, was in honor of the corps. Everything in the museum, including the display cases, was built by hand by the park's staff.
"We wanted to make sure everything was in-house, just like how this place was built," Power said. "That was very important to us."
Speakers at the event included Cleburne County Probate Judge Ryan Robertson and Alabama Sen. Gerald Dial. Everyone who spoke mentioned how important a role Cheaha had played in their lives. Dial, a Lineville native, worked at a concession stand on the mountain during his summer breaks from school while in college, living in the lodge of the mountain for months at a time.
"I'm one of the most fortunate people alive because every morning when I sit at my breakfast table, from my window I can see the top of the mountain," Dial said. "It reminds me of what a great country I live in."
Many in attendance Saturday were related to the men who built the park. Ethan Branch, from Clay County, said his grandfather would like to tell stories about how tough it was to build the roads which led to the mountain. The personal touch adds something special to his own visits, he said.
"It's special to see the legacy that he left behind here," Branch said. "He worked hard to be to able support his family, and it was a tough job. I admire him."
The celebration will continue next weekend when the park hosts the opening of a new campsite on Saturday. The new camping area was the same one used by the corps when they were building the park.