Thanking the Civilian Conservation Corps

A reader thanks the men whose can-do attitude helped build our nation’s parks.

Thanking the Civilian Conservation Corps

Thanking the Civilian Conservation Corps

A graceful stone bridge built by the CCC spans Enfield Creek in New York’s Robert H. Treman State Park. Photography by Robert K. Olejniczak/RKO Images

Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park in 1937.

Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park in 1937.

This CCC worker cuts a coped joint for a log building at Granite Creek in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park in 1937. Photo courtesy of Everett Collection Inc/Alamy


    Story by Nancy Olejniczak, East Randolph, New york

    Perhaps a few men who served in the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, during the Great Depression will read this story and enjoy these pictures. I hope so, because my husband and I would like to thank you.

    Bob and I and our two children spend lots of time in public parks and woodlands taking photographs, and somewhere along the way I realized that none of these adventures would be possible without the hardworking members of the CCC.

    From 1933 to 1942, the 2.5 million men enrolled in the program developed or upgraded more than 800 state and national parks, planted some 3 billion trees and built 63,000 buildings. The corps, part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, also built dams and public roadways in remote areas and prevented erosion and flooding through landscaping projects.

    We’ve climbed the stone stairways the CCC constructed on steep gorge walls at New York’s Watkins Glen State Park and marveled at the stonework of a gracefully arching bridge that blends seamlessly with nature’s beauty.

    Bob and I often drive with anticipation along the Blue Ridge Parkway, waiting to round a bend and find blooming rhododendron and azalea in the spring or swaths of brilliant color in the fall. We enjoy these picturesque scenes thanks to the young men who worked six days a week for $30 a month, most of which they were required to send home to their struggling families.

    Helping Bob carry camera equipment up the Canyon Overlook Trail in Utah’s Zion National Park is easy compared to the effort it must have taken the government workers to carve that trail out of sandstone with picks and shovels. We’ve hiked many more miles of trails, stayed in campgrounds and dined at picnic areas thanks to men with a desire to work for a better life for themselves and their families.

    Nicknamed “Roosevelt’s tree army,” they helped restore the country’s badly overcut forests by not only planting trees but also fighting fires and disease. Most of this labor is easy to overlook unless you happen to pass by one of the many pine plantations planted by the CCC in areas where logging had taken place. We have one just outside our hometown and used to wonder, Who put those there?

    As the CCC celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, veterans are gathering at reunions to share memories of the work and life in the camps. A group called the Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy was formed to promote and preserve the history of the program.

    CCC Legacy began placing commemorative bronze statues throughout the U.S. A kiosk near the monument at New York’s Letchworth State Park explains, “Exhibiting the corps’ ‘can-do’ attitude, the statue of the CCC worker depicts a young enrollee with a double-bitted ax ready for the next job.” I’m glad those statues will remind my children of this commitment and energy when they’re old enough to appreciate it.

    If you were one of those CCC men, we want you to know that your legacy and spirit bring joy to my family every time we visit a park or forest that you worked in. Thank you.

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