CCC - Civilian Conservation Corps
The Great Depression that began in 1929 and lasted more than a decade brought with it some of the greatest challenges not only to the National park system but to the entire country. Like a fast moving avalanche the great depression blanketed the country with devastation and ruin. Dreams were shattered and lives were torn away from the comfort and security that they had enjoyed for years. As the years wore on many people found that they were penniless and destitute. The effects of their hardships were far reaching. At the height of the crisis in 1933, over 15 million Americans were unemployed. Many people lost everything and had to depend on charity to survive. The presidential election of 1933 was one of the most significant elections in the history of the United States. People were looking for someone to bring them out of the depression and back into stability and financial security. Franklin Delano Roosevelt heard the voice of the people and as soon as he was elected took emergency measures to pull the country out of trouble. As part of Roosevelt’s “New Deal” program Congress enacted the Emergency Conservation Work Act which soon became known as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The mission of the agency was to combine jobs for unemployed people and to preserve the exhausted natural resources of the country.
In the decade that the CCC was in operation, about 3 million unemployed, single young men between the ages of 17 and 23 were given jobs across the country. Under the direction of the US military, CCC camps were established in areas where conservation projects were being planned. Roosevelt established eleven CCC camps supervised by NPS employees to complete the work on Shenandoah and the Skyline Drive. Drive 100’ firth of way 1933-1935. then park 1936-1942. Numbering about 200 – 250 per camp, these CCC men would build roads, trails, comfort stations, picnic grounds, and other facilities that provide the infrastructure of the park today.
The CCC was also responsible for planting tens of thousands of trees including Fraser fir, red spruce, Canadian yews, table mountain pine and fragrant sumac. These seedlings were started from local park seeds or seeds imported from nurseries or other parks. The CCC also was commissioned to beautify and reestablish the area. Fondly christened “Roosevelt’s Tree Army” the CCC was responsible for planting over 3 billion trees across the nation.
You can explore one of the CCC camps by taking a short hike, not far, less than 5 minutes, into Big Meadows. Walking a short distance due Northeast you will soon find yourself atop a rise near the edge of the forest. Stop here and look around you. It was in this area, marked by stakes, where the CCC Camp NP-2 (Big Meadows) was located. You can imagine the barracks and mess hall were a lively place in the evenings with hundreds of young men from across the country laughing, telling stories and sharing tales from back home. If you allow yourself to become aware of the slight blowing breeze you may be able to pick up the sounds of men laughing, dishes clanging and you may even be able to smell the biscuits, beans and bacon cooking in the mess tent. After a hard time enduring the Great Depression the men finally had enough food to eat and were making enough money to be able to send some home to their loved ones. Of their $30 monthly salary $25 was sent directly home to their families
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Civilian Conservation Corps