Frank Howell can look with pride at the neat terraces etched into the mountains above Farmington.
As a young man, Howell was part of the Civilian Conservation Corps crew that painstakingly turned the eroded slopes of Farmington Canyon into an internationally recognized flood-control project that has proved its worth for half a century.Stopping the flash floods that plagued the small town every spring was an important role of Farmington's Lake View Camp, established by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration in the early 1930s and directed by Roy White of Farmington.
The Lake View Camp was south of the present-day Cherry Hill Campground in Kaysville. The CCC also operated several camps in Davis County that put America's unemployed men to work.
Howell came to the Lake View Camp from Salt Lake City in 1932 at age 18. "I was working at the railroad, and when the railroad closed, I came to the CCC." He remembers exactly how long he was at the camp - three years and 25 days. After he left the camp, he married a local woman, Maxine Mayfield.
"I'm still here in Farmington. I haven't made enough money to get out of here," he quipped.
The Lake View Camp operated until about 1939. By then the project was complete and World War II was approaching - and the workers were soon marching off to war.
The Davis County Watershed Project was probably the most important contribution of the Lake View Camp crews. They assisted the Army Corps of Engineers, the CCC, state and local officials and the Forest Service in the rehabilitation of the devastated watershed. So succcessful were their efforts that the watershed has been studied by governments around the world. Pakistan and India have adopted similar methods to cope with overgrazing, monsoons and drought.
Fires and overgrazing by sheep and cattle since pioneer days had denuded the Wasatch range. Farmington was battered by flash floods throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. A cloudburst on Aug. 13, 1923, killed seven people in Farmington. Five of them were Boy Scouts camping in Farmington Canyon. A young couple honeymooning in the canyon was also killed. At Lagoon, an elderly woman and child were carried downstream before being pulled from the water by Dr. R.C. Robinson, who was awarded a Carnegie Medal.
Besides the loss of life, many farms were damaged by the furious rush of water, mud and boulders, prompting residents to press for a solution.
State and federal conservation agencies had tackled flooding and erosion for several years throughout Utah. Early measures included small check dams at the heads of canyons along the Wasatch Front. Willard, in Box Elder County, and Farmington, two of the areas most severely damaged in 1923, received flood-control barriers that year under an agreement involving federal, state, county and private agencies. But another severe flood in 1930 emphasized the need for further measures.
The timing of the CCC couldn't have been better.
A CCC camp located near the entrance to Mueller Park in Bountiful began work on the Davis watershed in 1933. The county had started the project a year earlier using Reconstruction Finance Corp. funds.
Terracing proved to be the best solution. It was relatively inexpensive and dealt with flooding at its source. Although terraces were built on mountains throughout Utah, the most outstanding examples are in Davis and Box Elder counties.
The task of halting the overgrazing, replanting the slopes and building terraces - by hand - was daunting even by today's standards.
The first step was to get men and equipment into Farmington Canyon at all elevations - particularly at the top where the runoff began. It was a tall order in the days before high-tech construction techniques and equipment.
To get crews to remote areas, the CCC built miles of roads not originally planned, providing the state with roads that otherwise would not exist. The Farmington terraces were no exception. Dynamite was used extensively to blast a series of switchbacks in the canyon that are still in use.
Concrete was mixed by hand and then conveyed by bucket brigade. Picks, shovels and a coffee pot were considered "standard equipment," according to Howell.
"I was on an explosives team for a while; then I was on a pick and shovel team," Howell said.
Retaining walls, silt-control basins, dikes and foundations for bridges were painstakingly built with rocks hauled in by horses. Very little cement was used. Many of the fixtures are still standing due to the workmanship of the CCC.
Reed W. Bailey of the Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station developed the terracing methods that became the standard in much of the West. Davis Mountain behind Bountiful served as his laboratory to test various combinations of terracing. CCC and Lake View crews constructed 9-foot-wide trenches spaced 5 to 20 feet apart that followed the contours of the slopes.
According to a pamphlet written by Bailey in 1937, each trench, instead of being one huge ditch, was divided into compartments or elongated reservoirs separated by low cross dams. Water flowed from one compartment to another before the trench itself overflowed. The standard depth of the trench was about 1 1/2 feet.
Crews started at the top and worked downhill so that the completed terraces could protect the work below should any summer storms hit the area. Crews then seeded the terraces with domestic rye grass to provide a quick cover and with perennial grass for a longer-lasting cover.
The terraces were designed to control melting snow and torrential rains of up to 2 inches an hour. The hand-built terraces proved their worth immediately. In July 1936 the valley was hit by almost an inch of rain in 15 minutes - a record at that time. Davis residents feared a repeat of the 1923 disaster. But the water stayed in the terraces.
By 1939, the crews had built more than 700 miles of terraces - enough, according to a job foreman, to construct a ditch from Bountiful to Los Angeles. Tons of seeds and 180,000 trees were planted on the bare slopes to protect the Davis watershed.
Although the work was grueling, the pay was considered great in those Depression days - $30 a month, $25 of which was sent home. "That was big money then," Howell said. "That included room and board and your clothes."
The Lake View Camp operated a 10-acre farm west of the USU Experimental Station in Farmington on what is now U.S. 89. Much of the food used at the camp was raised there, and cows and pigs provided milk and meat.
Howell remembers frequent outings to Lagoon on the weekends. During the week, the men at Lake View were required to participate in constant fire drills.
"I liked it, and I liked the people I worked for. It's too bad they couldn't keep it going," Howell said. "The CCC was the best thing that ever happened in this country. It kept a lot of people off the streets. You had a nice place to sleep, a nice place to eat. It was the best thing that ever happened."
Much of the information for this story was taken from Kenneth W. Baldridge's "Nine Years of Achievement: The Civilian Conservation Corps in Utah," published in 1971.