HUGER -- The brown log picnic shelter was one of the first things built in the then brand-new Francis Marion National Forest.

That was around 1938, and those who have visited it recently could see it looking every year its age.

That posed a dilemma for Robert Morgan, whose job as heritage program manager with the Francis Marion and Sumter National forests constantly requires him to do more with less.

Morgan says the Huger Recreation Area shelter is one of four that the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Depression-era public works program, built in South Carolina's national forests.

It also was the one in the worst shape.

"I knew we've got to do something about the shelters before they disintegrate and they become dangerous to use and we lose them," he says. "Our CCC legacy has been neglected. We don't have much left in the forest that dates to that era."

Enter the American College of the Building Arts, which agreed to partner with the Forest Service. First, college students began by assessing the shelter's condition.

Once its condition was known, however, Morgan says he had to figure out how to get it repaired correctly, and that was no picnic.

"When it came to writing the specifications for timber framing, my engineer looked at me and I looked at him and said, 'I don't know,' " he recalls.

That's when the partnership with the college expanded and the Arris Building Group, a new company of two new college graduates, Isiah Shaw and Marlo Sutphin, took a lead role in the renovation.

Shaw and Sutphin used traditional techniques and hand tools to replace damaged and rotten timbers. They also supervised students who returned to the shelter to help replace the wooden shingle roof and to repair the masonry chimney.

"It's good for them to have this hands-on experience," Sutphin says.

While open to the air on three of four sides, the shelter's interior seemed dark, so Morgan says the renovation included whitewashing the chimney and leaving the underside of the new wood-shingle roof unpainted.

The shelter's rustic design reflects the Western roots of the Forest Service, Morgan says. The agency used similar designs as it expanded to Eastern states. "Much like the military, we are very uniform in what we do," he adds.

Morgan says the students sought to keep as much of the original shelter as they could, repairing timbers with epoxy if possible. "When people return, they won't know what was original and what had to be replaced. It all has the same feel."

The shelter -- nestled in the trees just beyond a bend in S.C. Highway 402 -- is just the most recent in a growing number of examples of how the Charleston-based American College for the Building Arts is paying local dividends.

The original Huger picnic shelter managed to survive for almost 75 years, with only some roof repairs after Hurricane Hugo.

Its recent renovation should ensure it lasts that long again.

Robert Behre may be reached at 937-5771 or by fax at 937-5579. His e-mail address is rbehre@postandcourier.com, and his mailing address is 134 Columbus St., Charleston, SC 29403.