Civilian Conservation Corps of the New Deal-Era: photos, projects
When Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in as president in 1933, he took the lead of a United States brought to its knees by the Great Depression. With unemployment reaching 25%, millions of people were out of work and a whole generation of young people had lost hope for their future, many living in makeshift slums and riding the tracks like hobos and vagrants.
In his inaugural address, FDR clung to an idea that was already being tested in states like California and Pennsylvania—Employing young people as an environmental army of tree planters, forest firefighters and conservationists.
“Our biggest first job is to get people to work,” said FDR. “It is not an unsolvable problem if we face it with wisdom and courage. This can be accomplished in part by direct recruitment by the government itself, by treating the task as we would handle the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, by completing projects much needed to stimulate and reorganize the use of our Resources. “
March 31, 1933, FDR sign the Federal Unemployment Relief Act, which recruited healthy young single men to join what would become the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC. The men, mostly uneducated and untrained, received $ 30 per month, of which $ 25 was sent directly to their families. They lived in racially isolated camps that operated under military style rules, but they had money in their pockets and food in their stomachs.
At its peak in 1935, the CCC enlisted 500,000 men in 2,600 camps across the country. The popular New Deal Program was eliminated in 1942 when the same enlisted youth enlisted for The Second World War.
During its nine years of existence, CCC has achieved its dual purpose: saving a lost generation and restoring the country’s wasted natural wealth. Here are some of the accomplishments of the CCC.
CCC has planted 3.5 billion trees
When FDR was only 19, he was put in charge of the aging Roosevelt family estate in Hyde Park, New York. Faced with a serious erosion problem, the young FDR decided to plant thousands of trees. Later, as governor of new York, FDR led statewide reforestation efforts and purchases of neglected farms to revert to productive woodlots.
It should come as no surprise then that reforestation is a major undertaking of the Roosevelt CCC. The United States was once rich in virgin forests, but rampant logging had reduced the country’s 800 million acres of woodland to just 100 million acres by 1933. Planting trees would not only restore a vital economic resource, but also to fight against creeping soil erosion. that have contributed to environmental disasters such as Dust bowl.
Tree planting was so closely associated with the CCC that it was nicknamed “Roosevelt’s Army of Trees”. According to one estimate, hard-working CCC enlisters planted 3.5 billion trees from 1933 to 1942, which is more than half of the total amount of trees planted in America as part of reforestation efforts.
Not only did the CCC plant billions of new saplings, but it also restored and rehabilitated overcrowded forest stands by thinning out dead trees. Other people registered with the CCC were given the responsibility of looking after experimental forest plots, which led to innovations in sound forest management.
The CCC established 711 state parks
The Home Office put CCC recruits to work expanding the country’s nascent national and state park systems. While a number of large national parks existed in 1933—Yellowstone and Yosemite date back to the 19th century – there were still several states without a single state park, including Virginia, West Virginia, South Carolina, Mississippi, and New Mexico.
During the nine years of operation of the CCC, a total of 2 million CCC workers have worked to create new national and state parks and to make existing parks more accessible by paving roads, cutting trails and by building cabins and campgrounds. In total, there were 194 CCC work camps in 94 national parks and 697 camps in 881 national and local parks across the United States.
Two well-known national parks were built almost entirely by the CCC workforce: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddling the North Carolina-Tennessee border, and the 600-acre Big Bend National Park. in Texas. In addition, the CCC has helped create a total of 711 new state parks across the country.
CCC spent 6.5 million days fighting fires
In the CCC’s nine years of operation, the annual area of US forest lost to fires has reached its lowest point, despite a record number of wildfires reported. This is because tens of thousands of youth registered with the CCC were employed as full-time firefighters or as emergency firefighters.
Permanent CCC fire teams patrolled vast areas of forest on foot, by truck, by plane and even by canoe. When a fire broke out, nearby CCC camps were enlisted to attack the blaze with everything they had – axes and portable hoes, shovels and saws, and the occasional bulldozer.
In a memorable campaign, CCC firefighters battled the mysterious underground coal fires near Gillette, Wyoming. The fires, which could send flames 20 feet into the air from exposed coal seams, had been burning for as long as residents could remember. CCC workers smothered some of the fires with sand and dug up burning materials in others, which managed to control 17 separate fires by 1937.
The total number of hours recorded by CCC firefighters from 1933 to 1942 was the equivalent of 6.5 million days. Tragically, 47 CCC firefighters also lost their lives in the effort.
CCC has built over 3,000 fire observation towers
Preventing fires was just as important as fighting fires. Groups of CCC men were tasked with improving emergency access to forest land by cutting tens of thousands of kilometers of road roads, opening new trails and installing countless kilometers of telephone lines. to facilitate communication between firefighting units.
Watchtowers were essential for spotting small fires before they turned into devastating forest flames. CCC workers have built over 3,000 of these towers, including the stone masonry Mount Diablo Observation Tower outside of San Francisco, offering awe-inspiring views of the Cascade mountain ranges and of the Sierra Nevada.
CCC teams also cleared up dead logs and wood in fire-prone areas and cut preventative fire breaks to slow the progress of a potentially disastrous fire. One of the largest of these firebreaks was the Ponderosa Road in Northern California, a 600-mile scar separating the dry brush from the wood-rich forests above.
The CCC also oversaw the construction of large water storage basins and collection ponds in order to have a water supply ready to fight future forest fires.
CCC has built over 30,000 miles of terraces
The Soil Conservation Service was second after the Forest Service for the largest number of CCC camps under its leadership. After decades of inappropriate land use – clearing trees to create more farmland, failure to plant cover crops in fallow fields – and years of drought, erosion threatened much of the land. American agriculture. By 1938, there were over 500 CCC soil conservation projects active in 44 states, employing 60,000 young men a year.
CCC workers planted trees to serve as windbreaks and ground anchors. They healed the gullies and redirected the water to the crops. And they trained farmers in modern soil conservation techniques that would lead to healthier land and higher yields.
One of CCC’s most innovative and effective tools was earthmoving of rolling land to create level fields with less water runoff. Earthmoving was no small task, requiring engineers, surveyors and heavy machinery. During the life of the CCC, over 30,000 miles of terraces were built and thousands of young CCC workers learned technical skills that have served them well in their future careers.
CCC launched the American ski industry
Downhill skiing was not a thing in America in the 1920s. There were simply no dedicated ski slopes, let alone amenities like ski lifts or ski lifts. But thanks to the CCC and a forward-thinking forestry official from Vermont, America got its first ski slopes in the 1930s.
Perry Merrill, the Vermont state forester, had attended a forestry school in Sweden, where he witnessed the Scandinavian passion for downhill skiing. Merrill dreamed of bringing the sport to the rugged hills of his home country, but lacked the resources to cut and clear miles of trails. Until he was appointed head of a strong 25-man CCC team in 1933.
Over the next several years, the tireless workers of the CCC have carved out legendary New England trails with names like Stowe, Wildcat, Cannon and Thunderbolt. In the west, CCC workers also cut the first ski runs in Sun Valley, Idaho. The first tow cables were installed in the late 1930s and Americans fell in love with skiing, in large part thanks to the CCC.