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America's Last Logging Camp Was A Child's Paradise; Now It's Gone

This story originally aired on September 17, 2016.  

Imagine growing up in a state to total innocence and freedom.

You're a child, and you have an infinity of woods and mountains to explore. You eat fresh blackberries your mother picks in the forest. All the dangers of the modern world are miles away.

Everyone in town is like an uncle, a mother, a grandmother. They dress up as Santa Claus for Christmas and stage a big egg hunt every Easter. 

That's how people describe growing up in Grisdale, a remote logging camp nestled for decades deep in the Olympic National Forest. It was the last of America's logging camps, ready-made towns set up by lumber companies for loggers and their families. 

Here's the catch: Someday, before childhood's even over, you have to leave. And when you try to return, it's like the place never existed.

Credit Courtesy of Donna Kinnaird
Children of loggers went to a two-room schoolhouse in Grisdale. When they became teenagers, they were bused to bigger schools in Montesano and Aberdeen.

Knkx's Will James spoke to former residents of the camp about how living there shaped their lives -- and what it was like to watch their hometown literally disappear after the camp closed 30 years ago. 

"Most people can go back to where they grew up," said Debbie Dobson, standing in the trees where her childhood home stood. "They can go back to their homes. But we can't. This is all we have." 

Here is a montage of voices from an Aug. 13, 2016, reunion of former Grisdale residents describing life in America's last logging camp. Voices are those of Chris Welch, Ruth Dally, Tony Johnson, Lovena Jenkins, and Patti Ostenson.

Credit Courtesy of Debbie Dobson
Grisdale existed for decades in the Olympic National Forest, more than 30 miles from the nearest town, Montesano, Washington.

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.