About 40 former members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal-era employment program dedicated to forestry and other outdoor work, were on hand last week for an unveiling of a plaque commemorating a lodge the group built nearly 50 years ago at what is now the U.S. Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville.

The "Log Lodge," which has a cathedral ceiling and restaurant, was built by CCC members in 1936 as a recreational facility for the 800 corpsmen who worked there. The U.S. Agriculture Department plans to convert the lodge into a visitor's center next year with displays on the agricultural research center.

Maryland Comptroller Louis Goldstein, speaking at last week's ceremony, endorsed the efforts of the National Organization of CCC Alumni to have legislation passed creating a new national conservation corps similar to the old agency.

That legislation passed the House by a narrow vote in July and is now pending in the Senate.

Edward Trumball, president of the Maryland chapter of CCC alumni, said the group is pushing the idea because "a new CCC could help put our young people gainfully to work and give them schooling.

"The CCC was helpful to us in the Depression years -- and to our nation. We really did some good work, in ecology and forestry. And a new CCC could still help the ecology."

The corps, one of the first New Deal agencies created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, employed more than 3 million workers, including more than 35,000 in Maryland, from 1933 to 1942. The workers, mostly men aged 18 to 25, taught farming; built shelters, dams and picnic areas; aided in disaster relief efforts, and planted trees -- millions of them.

In the Beltsville area, Trumball said, CCC members planted trees at four campsites and dug drainage ditches for what is now the National Agricultural Research Center.

The CCC alumni group, formed in 1979, has more than 12,000 members nationwide, including 40 in the Maryland chapter.

Maryland chapter president Trumball, 71, a retired sheetmetal worker at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing who lives in Hyattsville, said the alumni get together to talk about the work they did, the friendships they shared and, most important, the good they could do now with a new CCC.

"We can teach the younger folks a thing or two," he said. "Passing on knowledge to a new generation is one of our fondest dreams."