A couple of years ago, one of the four shelter houses at Jackson-Washington State Forest near Brownstown was completely torn down, leaving only the chimney structure.
The age of the museum shelter house’s material had reached a highly deteriorated state, making it unsafe, property manager Brad Schneck said.
Reconstruction began in late 2013 and has continued through this year, and there are a few remaining tasks before it will reopen to the public.
“It may seem like the project is taking a long time to complete, but we are doing all aspects possible with in-house labor as we have time,” Schneck said. “During the recreation season, it is difficult to dedicate all of our time to this with so much going on at both properties recreationally speaking.”
Jeremy Steinkamp, the forest’s sole maintenance foreman, has worked on it with help periodically between other duties.
“We started from the ground up,” Steinkamp said. “All of the concrete was torn out. I got the concrete all formed up and ready to pour. I had help pouring the concrete, and I had help from John Smedley at Starve Hollow. They helped me put on some decking. They couldn’t help me very much since they had to keep up with their duties at Starve Hollow.”
Steinkamp installed all of the logs, walls and rafters by himself.
“Sometimes, it was a challenge to hold up lumber by myself,” he said. “But over my 23 years of building, I’ve figured out little ways to help me do tasks by myself.”
He also has started placing the cedar shake shingles on the roof of the shelter house. There’s still dirt and concrete work to do, along with retaining walls to build and sidewalks to pour.
“It has been fun seeing it come together,” Steinkamp said. “It has been kind of slow. We have been short on staff, and I also have to keep up on the campground here at Jackson and take care of Skyline, Washington County property and a horse parking lot on State Road 250. Plus, I’ve been working on a remodel project at the residence at Starve Hollow. It is coming together pretty good, though.”
Schneck said he learned the shelter house was built in 1934. When they were disassembling the building, they uncovered a limestone etched with that year on it. That stone is now in the forest office.
He also found out that the building was constructed by a Civilian Conservation Corps group, which was instrumental in the construction of several structures at the forest and Starve Hollow State Recreation Area in nearby Vallonia.
“It’s believed that it started out to house historical items of the county, hence the name museum, before the items were moved to another location in town,” he said. “Following that move, the area that housed the historical items was boarded up, and the lower ground level was used as a public shelter.”
He said modification and vandalism over the years changed its appearance. In 2013, it had reached a point where logs and supports became unsafe, so the reconstruction project began late that fall.
The new shelter house will have the same footprint but will be more handicap-friendly with a walkway for wheelchairs.
Schneck said the project is being funded by the Division of Forestry, but the complete cost is not yet available.
Once the work is finished, the shelter house will be open to reservations at an anticipated cost of $40. When it’s not reserved, it will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis for free.
The property’s other shelter houses, Pinnacle, Skyline Drive and White Oak, also are available for reservations.
The forest, which encompasses nearly 18,000 acres in Jackson and Washington counties, also offers hiking trails, horse trails, camping, fishing, hunting, an archery range and picnicking.
The Jackson-Washington State Forest is at 1278 E. State Road 250, Brownstown.
For information, call 812-358-2160 or visit in.gov/dnr/forestry/4820.htm.