Millions of Americans visiting both our State and National Parks every year take in the beauty surrounding them as they walk in the woods and traverse across the bridges and trails. Yet, do many of these park visitors take a few moments to pause and reflect on just how these pathways were blazed, bridges were built and trees planted? Many projects across this country encompassing more than 700 local, state and national parks were completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was established in 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as one of the efforts to put thousands of young men to work during the Great Depression. The CCC was envisioned by FDR as not only a way to help construction efforts in the country, but also to instill a spirit of hope to thousands of men and thereby helping raise the optimism, and economic standards, of the entire country. When FDR presented the bill to Congress, urging the formation of the CCC, he stated:“This enterprise…will conserve our precious natural resources. It will pay dividends to the present and future generations. It will make improvements in National and State domains which have been largely forgotten in the past few years of industrial development…More important however, than the material gains will be the moral and spiritual value of such work…We can take a vast army of these unemployed out into healthful surroundings. We can eliminate to some extent at least the threat that enforced idleness brings to spiritual and moral stability. It is not a panacea for all the unemployment, but it is an essential step in this emergency.”
On March 31, 1933 Roosevelt signed the bill into law and work quickly began to organize and implement the operation of the CCC. Since it was such a huge undertaking the successful implementation of FDR’s vision required the cooperation of several branches of the government to assure its success. The Department of Labor was utilized for the enrollment of the young men. The War Department was responsible for feeding, clothing and training the enrollees for their duties and the Agricultural and Interior Departments selected the work projects, supervised the work and oversaw the administration of the camps.
The volume of projects accomplished by the CCC from 1933 to 1942 is reflected in the statistics. The majority of projects were conservation efforts and thereby had the greatest impact on our parks and farmland. Approximately 125,000 miles of roads were built, 13,000 miles of foot trails built, 972 fish stocked and between 2 and 3 billion trees were planted. Additionally, 40 million acres of farmland benefited from erosion control projects.
Working in the camps as a CCC worker, instilled in most of the workers a great deal of pride in what they were accomplishing for their country. Yet, it was no picnic in the woods; the men worked long arduous hours and were paid only $30.00 per month, thinking in simpler terms:$1.00 per day. Even by 1930 standards…it still didn’t seem like much. Most of their salary was sent home to their families. It was very beneficial that their meals, clothing, lodging and medical care was included in their work with the corps. Over its 9-year span the CCC employed about 3 million men nationwide. The profound impact of the CCC on our Parks system provided an expansion and development of the parks so as to create many new opportunities for Americans to explore the great outdoors, frequently in new ways for many visitors. The CCC was a great benefit to the Parks and even today the legacy continues. An organization called CCC Legacy helps educate and foster an appreciation of the works that were accomplished by the CCC. They have a web-site: http://www.ccclegacy.org with links to how one can learn about the history of their accomplishments and how a person could assist in conservation efforts in their own community.
The National Parks are basically funded through three main channels: tax supported, user fees and private donations. During its tenure, not only did the CCC help the National Parks develop into the parks we know today, but they helped them complete those projects at a great savings. The question has been asked before, but deserves to be given consideration: would the CCC work today? Perhaps Yes. If the formation of an active Civilian Conservation Corp., or one similar to the one that was formed in 1933, were to be successful it would need to take several cultural and political differences into account. The major goals would undoubtedly remain: to restore the original CCC structures, provide maintenance in Parks while simultaneously providing rewarding work for unemployed young people. When people think of America, they not only think of our freedoms and lifestyles, but also the beauty and diversity of our lands. Our State and National Parks help to showcase these beautiful lands, as well as helping to preserve them.
So the next time you visit either a state or national park, ask a few questions and see if you can spot projects completed by the CCC. Chances are good you may find some of their work; so many projects across this country we have the CCC to thank for.
It is a legacy that deserves to endure. Put your traveling shoes on. JES
Sources: “Our Mark on this Land: A Guide to the Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps in America’s Parks”, by Ren & Helen Davis (published 2011)