By the 1930's the boom was over. The hillsides were scarred. Thousands of openings, natural and man-made, lead to mines and miles of abandoned underground tunnels. Gob piles of useless coal created huge black swaths of barren land. The region became known as "the lands that no one wanted." The country was deep in the worst economic depression in its history. The federal government began purchasing land here and designated it as the Athens Unit of the Wayne National Forest, Ohio's only national forest. The depression-era WPA and CCC workers arrived in large numbers, replanting the forest, fighting nearby underground mine fires and engaging in conservation projects.
In 1952 Shawnee residents joined together to build Tecumseh Lake at the edge of the village. At the dedication, the value of the conservation of the "outdoors" was expressed by religious and civic leaders. This village project brought all the community factions together. Protestant and Catholics alike worked together again, as they had years before to rebuild St. Mary's Catholic Church after a fire. Tecumseh Lake serves as a recreational area and trailhead for two long-distance hiking trails, Ohio's Buckeye Trail and the North Country National Scenic Trail.
As the forest continued its return in the last half of the 20th century,
Shawnee continued on a slow decline in population and economic vitality. By 1972 the coal mines and brick factories had departed. Investors generally were no longer interested in the area. Yet the town survived, unlike many mining communities. Many families had long considered Shawnee home and were determined to hold on and sustain their community. The district was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, as one of the best standing examples of Boom Town architecture in the eastern U.S. Locally sponsored efforts to rehabilitate and restore the district for future generations continues.
By the early years of the new millennium, the return of the eastern woodland forest is well established. With significant and long-term investment, the Monday Creek and Sunday Creek watersheds are being restored, after years of acid mine drainage stained the streams. As the forest matures and streams recover, plant live is more diverse, wildlife is more plentiful and opportunities for local residents to enjoy hiking, fishing, hunting, and camping increase, as do the number of people who come to the region to enjoy the benefits of the recovering landscape.
Surrounded by the forest, grown and development—this time around—is influenced by the regenerating environment and the lessons learned from the early extraction industry boom-to-bust era. The forest
is a pleasant setting as people explore the region and learn the remarkable story of this place that has evolved during the past two hundred years.