Rocky Mountain
Administrative History
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The building of Trail Ridge Road in the early 1930's was a godsend to the region's economy, which had been severely dented by the great depression of that decade. The construction provided work for many formerly unemployed young men from Estes Park, Grand Lake and the valley towns. The completed road also attracted visitors to the area during the summer. Yet appropriations for the Park had been gradually reduced, so that for its staff, it was a "pinchpenny time." Superintendent Rogers recalled that he felt obligated "to look at a nickel twice" before spending it. [1] Often old roads went unrepaired and new ones were not built because of skimpy appropriations.

During the early 1930's, Estes Park Village faced unusually hard times. Superintendent Rogers observed:

There is no activity in the town of Estes Park. "Old Timers" say it is the quietest year in the history of the region. Business and hotel men are going about with long faces, realizing of course, that the coming summer will be a gamble. It's our opinion that the community in general has just begun to feel the sting of the depression. [2]

The depression had relatively little effect on Grand Lake village, since money was scarce there most of the year anyway. There were only four salaried people in Grand Lake during the off season. So during the depression, economic conditions remained basically unchanged there. [3]

The above reference to the economic contribution of the Trail Ridge Road, however, suggests the necessity for describing other favorable developments in the Park which resulted from New Deal policies after President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933. Among the relief measures which he promptly sponsored was the Civilian Conservation Corps Reforestation Relief Act in May 1933. This act empowered the President to create an agency named the Civilian Conservation Corps. According to one author, Roosevelt had

purposefully designed the CCC to provide unemployed young men with work which would contribute to conserving the nation's natural resources. [4]

Through the cooperation of several federal departments, CCC "camps" were soon established around the nation. The Department of Labor directed the selection of the "enrollees." The War Department set up camps to house the men and care for their needs while they were not "on the job." The Departments of Agriculture and Interior planned projects and provided the necessary technical supervision. [5] A reserve army officer and a staff of CCC specialists provided direction in the camps. Included among the specialists were a project superintendent, a camp doctor, and an educational advisor. A technical assistant supervised the foremen, "straw bosses" and various project assistants. [6]

To qualify for enrollment in the CCC, a man had to be unemployed and unmarried. He had to be an American citizen between the ages of seventeen and twenty-three, physically fit for manual labor, and free of a criminal record. If the enrollee had any dependents, they too had to be on relief. Besides enrolling unemployed young men, the CCC enlisted veterans, Indians, and college students in search of summer work. [7]

Colorado soon shared in this government program. The state's first CCC tent camp was started in early May at Trout Creek near Buena Vista. Within several days two other camps began operations, one in Pike National Forest at Lake George and one at Hardscrabble. And on May 13, 1933, the first of a contingent of CCC enrollees came to Rocky Mountain National Park. The day was raw and threatening, with eighteen inches of show on the ground, as Park officials ushered an advance party of eight men to Little Horseshoe Park a few miles from Estes Park Village where they began the task of pitching tents and establishing Camp Number One. Four days later, 159 men, ranging from cowhands to college graduates, arrived from Greeley and Fort Lupton. In the words of a contemporary they were "a pretty sober and responsible bunch." [8]

Camp One (NP-1-C) was laid out in quasi-military style, with a single company street, flanked by tents perfectly aligned on either side. At the upper end of the street on one side were the administrative office, infirmary, and officers' mess hall. At the foot of the street were the bathhouse and lavatory, with hot and cold water and showers. [9]

The workday began at 8:00 a.m. and ended with the return to camp at 4:00 p.m. Because transportation to and from work was provided by large, red, sightseeing buses, the enrollees were soon given the name "woodpeckers." The enrollees earned $30 a month. Of this sum, they usually sent about $25 home to their families. Furthermore, the boys were generally conscientious workers for their modest wage. An oft-repeated phrase, to the rhythm of a swinging pick or ax, was "Another day, another dollar. I get the day, my mammy gets the dollar." [10]

Battell Loomis, an unemployed magazine writer and one of the first enrollees, later recalled those early days in Rocky Mountain National Park:

That same Saturday May 13, 1933 the army surgeon examined and enlisted thirty-five local experienced men (men over twenty-five—they may be married men) to serve as foremen and straw bosses of the forest gangs. The next day a truck load of camp material arrived. A detail of twenty men shoveled the frozen snow away and leveled the camp site. A field kitchen was erected, four tents were set up, latrines were dug, boulders were blasted away, and 1,400 feet of two-inch galvanized pipe was laid to have water in the kitchen for supper that evening.

On Monday the 15th twenty-four pyramidal tents and three twenty-four bed hospital ward tents were ready. On Tuesday forty-eight of the forest workers arrived from Fort Sill, Oklahoma. On Wednesday 111 more arrived by bus from Greeley. They were in their own worn clothes, many without coats or sweaters. The doctor examined them and rejected only ten. No supplies had come, and at three-thirty on Thursday morning the men began to riot—they were freezing to death. The army built fires, hot coffee was served out to all hands, and a disused government-owned lodge at Moraine Park, was pillaged for bedding. It was not until Friday night that the balance of the equipment arrived from Fort Logan.

Instead of the authorized issue of one canvas cot, one straw bed sack, and four army blankets per man, we were given six blankets each and cotton-stuffed mattresses. For the rest, our issue of equipment followed the general rule: two pairs of khaki shirts, one blue-denim hat, six pairs of socks, two pairs of boots, one toilet kit, and one aluminum mess kit, canteen. [11]

Loomis then described the routine work day schedule:

At that, the work isn't too hard. Up at six o'clock in the morning. Breakfast—hot and plenty of it—at seven. Camp police from seven thirty to eight. Then off to work for four hours. Lunch at twelve—plenty of it (we get a pound of bread and a pound of meat per man per day, as well as eggs and plenty of vegetables)—followed by four more hours of work. Back in camp by four thirty. The rest of the day is on our own time, except for camp details.

Each day a few of us get leave to go to town, and week-end leave to visit families is also handled in rotation. No liquor is the hard-and-fast rule. At first there was the making of trouble between us and the enlisted men. Here we were, getting thirty dollars a month and some of the group leaders and foreman drawing down thirty-six and forty-five, while the army men, who did more work, only rated between fifteen and twenty. The army didn't kick, but they didn't like it. The field kitchen was put under a roof that wouldn't blow away, a heavy-duty range was installed instead of the flat field stove, and four army men cooked for us and helped the captain handle 200 CCC's without a fight. [12]

Without arousing much local excitement, work under the CCC program had gotten under way promptly. The men in the camp at Horseshoe Park started on various projects on May 13 and remained busy until transferred out for the winter months on November 15, 1933. Another camp was established on June 23 near Phantom Valley, thirteen miles from Grand Lake, and its recruits worked until transferred to State Park number one in Arizona on October 15, 1933.

Under the leadership of camp superintendents L. E. Douglas and Arthur A. Mathews the camps functioned smoothly and the morale of the workers remained high. Park Superintendent Edmund Rogers noted that the enrollees were doing more and better work than he had anticipated. [13] The excellent work record of these early camps can partially be attributed to the close cooperation of the Park rangers with the Emergency Conservation Work enrollees. Rangers were put in complete charge of the work in their districts, thereby expediting the jobs as well as holding overhead costs to a minimum. Furthermore, before being put out into the field the enrollees were familiarized with the nature of their work projects through talks from the chief ranger and his staff. By such careful planning a Black Hills Beetle infestation in the Ponderosa Pine was controlled before reaching epidemic proportions. [14] In addition, the enrollees completed a miscellany of projects, including construction of fire trails, trout rearing ponds, and guard rails on the new Trail Ridge Road.

After the young men of the two CCC camps were transferred to winter projects in another area of the country, the Park continued to benefit from various civil works projects undertaken by the temporary national relief agency known as the Civil Works Agency (C.W.A.). Under the direction of Park engineers A. Van Dunn and Frea A. Fair, 170 C.W.A. men from Estes park and the valley towns earned forty-five cents an hour enlarging the Bear Creek Parking area, burning debris, reconstructing and relocating roads, and performing extensive work on a new utility area. [15] Not only was the Park's appearance embellished by these efforts, but the region's economy was reportedly raised to a higher status than it had enjoyed since 1929. [16] Much of the $46,805.42 appropriation for the Civil Works program was absorbed in salaries, which in turn were spent within the region. Aided by unseasonably warm and dry weather, Civil Works projects proceeded ahead of schedule. Not a single working day was lost in January. Superintendent Rogers explained, "The men appreciate the opportunity to work and the results achieved have been gratifying." [17]

Even while the CWA people were completing their projects, army officers and local men anticipated the return of the CCC's by rehabilitating the two camps that had been erected the previous year. The first contingent of approximately twenty enrolled men moved into the first camp, at Horseshoe Park, on April 28, 1934, a bare two days after the Civil Works program had been terminated. Two weeks later a new camp was established and filled with recruits, who were shortly followed by a new group for the Phantom Valley camp. The new camp had been established at Mill Creek, five miles west of Estes Park Village.

In July the Park's CCC camps were visited by Robert Rechner, Director of Emergency Conservation Work. Accompanied by Congressman Edward T. Taylor, Superintendent Rogers, and Colonel Peck, who was the Regional Forester, Fechner inspected all three camps during July 11-12. Both he and Congressman Taylor expressed their approval of the camps and the work done by their occupants. [18]

While the "brass hats" looked on approvingly, the enrollees developed an esprit de corps that was at times defiant. One CCC boy took time to describe the psychological impact of the program

They say the New Deal brings luck. It brought it to me.

A few months ago I was broke. At this writing I am sitting on top of the world. Almost literally so, because National Park No. 1 CCC Camp near Estes Park . . . is 9,000 feet up. Instead of holding down a park bench or pounding the pavements looking for work, today I have work, plenty of good food, and a view of the sort that people pay money to see. . . We are going to have a hamburg steak tonight. And I am on the payroll. [19]

To avoid confusing the reader, this explanation is offered concerning the number and status of CCC camps located in Rocky Mountain National Park during the depression and early years of World War II. NP-1-C was a temporary camp operated every summer from 1933 until 1938 at Horseshoe Park on the east side of the Divide. There is no mention of this camp after 1938.

NP-3-C was a temporary camp operated during the summers of 1933 and 1934 at Phantom Valley, west of the Divide, In the summer of 1935, NP-3-C was replaced by NP-7-C, another temporary camp which was disbanded during the spring of 1936. NP-7-C was re-occupied in the summer of 1938. It was eventually replaced by a permanent camp, NP-12-C, established near Grand Lake in the summer of 1940. NP-12-C was one of the last two camps to serve the Park, being abandoned in the summer of 1942.

NP-4-C was established as the Park's first permanent camp at Hallowell Park on Mill Creek in May 1934. It was used year round. In 1940 it was combined with a new permanent camp, NP-11-C, to form the Park's only "double camp." NP-4-C was abandoned on June 30, 1941. NP-11-C became the last CCC camp to serve the National Park, being abandoned on July 29, 1942.

His co-workers he found to be

An interesting lot, mainly from Denver—one Negro, twelve Mexicans, the rest ordinary Americans. . . . These aren't panhandlers; they are the men we use to make wars, or revolutions—or crime waves. They're husky, intelligent, clean-living youngsters. In spite of four years of depression, their physical condition when examined by the army doctors stacked up better than the draftees during the World War. . . . You can build a new state out of men like these. They are the Green Guard of the Roosevelt Revolution—200 out of the 300,000 scattered throughout the country. Think that over! [20]

After eight months service in the camp this same enrollee began to wonder realistically, "how are we going to fit into life by the time the New Deal is a bit older." Probably reflecting anxieties common to many enrollees, he wrote:

Where are we going from here? There are rumors of a CCC of a million men next year. But, we all know that we can't stay with the organization for the whole of our lives. [21]

While to the enrollees problems seemed to lie mainly in the future, CCC administrators had to deal with more immediate crises. Rocky Mountain National Park became involved in supervisory scandals. Superintendent Rogers reported in May 1934 that a camp at Mill Creek was "particularly weak from a morale standpoint, but a change of camp commanders has been reflected in a marked improvement." [22] Later in the same Monthly Report he noted:

Although considerable work has been accomplished by the men in the fields the camps are not functioning one hundred per cent. The difficulty is in the foreman, the men holding these positions are for the most part not experienced in the type of work required of them. [23]

As late as August 1935, although some improvement had been realized, a new camp on the west side of the Park still "experienced considerable difficulty obtaining supervisory personnel." [24] David Canfield, later to be superintendent of Rocky Mountain National Park, remembered that some of the superintendents were of "fearful" quality. Some of them had only "sold shoe laces" for a living prior to their Park appointments. [25]

In the early fall of 1935 the most dramatic incident of the CCC program occurred when ninety enrollees at Mill Creek Camp received dishonorable discharges for their part in a work strike. These dismissals resulted from an effort to head off an order requiring truck drivers while on duty to perform manual labor when not driving or maintaining their vehicles. [26] Apparently believing that the drivers were being overworked, the enrollees, led by twenty-five year old Kenneth Burke of Loveland, refused to work as long as the regulation was effective. When negotiations between the enrollees and the Park administration proved to be fruitless, the truck drivers were taken to Denver and given administrative discharges. Thus further inflamed, the enrollees gathered outside the quarters of Gorrge Carlson, the camp superintendent. In a seemingly threatening manner, they dared him to come outside. Order was restored only after Carison was escorted from the camp by armed army officers. The most vehement strikers were then administratively discharged. Their discharges denied them the right to enroll in another CCC camp, made it impossible for them to hold government positions, and kept them from ever obtaining federal relief. [27]

This dramatic episode did not seriously affect the Park's public relations with the surrounding towns. Seldom did townspeople object to the presence of CCC workers as visitors. The town officials realized that the great majority of the boys were hard-working and well-behaved, despite a few misfits. As the Estes Park Trail reported on July 6, 1934;

There are three hundred and fifty-five young men at the CCC camps in this vicinity—and one-tenth of that number of hoodlums. The clean young fellows have to suffer abridged liberty and curtailed privileges on account of the carryings on of a few. . . However Estes Park will not permit them to stand on the street and continue to pass remarks about the women on Elkhorn Avenue. [28]

Throughout the years 1935-38 the Park received sufficient enrollees for two camps and sometimes a third, as the spring to autumn visits of the CCC became routine. Their appointed tasks, whether major or minor, according to Superintendent Rogers, constituted "work that had been needed for years but which was impossible to accomplish under normal appropriations." [29] Early in the spring of 1938, while awaiting a new group of enrollees, the Estes Park Trail summarized the five-year record of the CCC. During that time, it had built eight travel-checking stations, two each in the Grand Lake, Thompson River, Fall River and Wild Basin areas. It had improved the Park water system by installing five concrete reservoirs of 2,500 to 6,000 gallons capacity and utilizing 12,557 lineal feet of pipe line to serve the Park Utility Area, Glacier Basin campground ranger stations and the Moraine Park Museum. It had constructed a total of 2,179 lineal feet of sewer line, as well as six disposal tanks, all according to United States Public Health Service standards. [30]

In addition, campgrounds were developed and improved. At Aspenglen and Glacier Basin 158 fireplaces and 125 rustic table and bench combinations were built, and twelve acres of new campgrounds were created. Roads and trails received appropriate attention, also. Besides devoting 9,094 man-days to the maintenance of 350 miles of Park trails and 1,347 man-days to the maintenance of 100 miles of telephone lines, the CCC constructed nearly twenty-one miles of new trails and seventeen miles of telephone lines. Then, too, more than ten miles of secondary dirt roads were built in the Pole Creek area. Another dirt road was also engineered from the Bear Lake Road to the Park's powder magazine. A major construction achievement was the building of the Moraine Park amphitheater. It seated 390 people and was used for nature programs.

In their role as conservationists, the enrollees planted 2,565 trees and shrubs. They also landscaped more than forty-two acres, and developed 15,396 square yards of parking area. The work crews planted 1,500,000 trout in the Park's lakes and streams and built four fish-rearing ponds. Additional construction involved two portable temporary cabins and eight equipment sheds, and the installation of a twenty-ton scale in the Utility Area. Furthermore, 339 man-days were devoted to fire fighting. The young men seeded and sodded 62,131 square yards of land and made 302 large directional and place signs. They erected 667 rods of guard rails, and ran 30.5 miles of grade line and forty-eight miles of lineal surveys. And, finally, they undertook tree-insect control measures over an area of 37,315 acres. [31]

The CCC program, though, included more than work projects. An educational program was established by the Park's personnel to acquaint the enrollees with the Park's administrative structure. Various Park Service employees, including Assistant Superintendent John C. Preston, Ranger-Naturalist Donald J. Obee, Park Commissioner Ray Baxter, Lloyd Fletcher and G. H. Laucks, contributed to the orientation. Enrollees learned the major functions of the Educational, Protection, Legal, Landscape, and Engineering Departments. This training program was primarily designed to prepare the enrollees for museum and education duty during the travel season. [32]

Clearly, both the Park and the young men had benefitted from the presence of the CCC program in Rocky Mountain National Park. So it was with a special enthusiasm that "all hands" helped celebrate the fifth anniversary of the CCC in the Park. Over 400 gathered at the Mill Creek camp on the evening of April 7, 1938, to participate in the celebration. Joining the enrollees and Park personnel were villagers from Estes Park and representatives of the valley towns. Captain Leo A. Noble first took the visitors on a short inspection tour and presented a demonstration of insect control methods at one of the infected areas. Arriving back at the camp, the celebrants then witnessed the transplanting of a large ponderosa pine. They were then given a tour of the camp itself. [33]

The day following the celebration, conservation work resumed as usual. Throughout the summer the crews worked on twenty-nine different jobs under thirty-six classifications. Furthermore, project training was boosted and contrary to previous years, a decided interest was shown by the supervisory personnel in the work programs. [34] The next year there was further development of the Timber Creek campground on the western slope of the Park, and the installation of water and sewer systems at Fall River Pass for the museum and store in operation there during the summer months. Much maintenance work was completed and enrollees responded to fire calls within the Park and on national forest lands. Emergency work consumed hundreds of man-days, the most important of which was the futile search for a five-and-one-half-year-old Denver boy, Alfred Bielhartz, in early July. [35]

The prolonged presence of the CCC's stimulated the region's economy. During 1938-1939, Park officials were able to spend $68,918.50 from CCC funds for skilled labor. These funds did not include sums from regular Park administrative appropriations and for routine CCC operations. Carpenters received about thirty percent of the total and mechanics nearly half as much. The CCC enrollees further stimulated Estes Park's economy by spending $2,000 a month in town. [36]

For three more years the CCC were employed on additional projects, occasionally totalling thirty-one a year. The Estes Park Trail faithfully reported all accomplishments. [37] The importance of its work was evident when in 1940 a permanent camp replaced a temporary one at Grand Lake. [38] The Park Service operated this camp on a cooperative basis with the United States Reclamation Bureau. It housed approximately 150 young men, the majority of them seventeen and eighteen years old. Most of them came from Oklahoma, though there were a few from Texas and northeastern Colorado. The principal project of the camp was to clear timber from the basins of the proposed Shadow Mountain and Granby reservoirs. [39]

Besides a safety record matched by only four other camps in the nation, the Grand Lake camp was proud of its vocational training program. Classes were held four times a week to aid especially the ten per cent of the enrollees who could not read and write. Vocational training classes, coordinated with the project work, was another educational feature of the camp. Opportunities for recreation included volley ball, pool, ping pong, and softball. The enrollees also frequented the local library where books were made available for their use by the Grand Lake Woman's Club. [40]

The CCC accomplishments in the fiscal year 1940 included the near completion of the Timber Creek campground north of Grand Lake along the Trail Ridge Road, and the entire completion of two outdoor amphitheatres at Aspenglen and Glacier Basin campgrounds east of the Divide. [41] And toward the latter part of the year, the CCC program was enlivened by a new educational feature. Under the leadership of naturalist Raymond Gregg, a new course of study was drawn up to be given at the Park's two permanent camps. The course dealt with the National Park, its problems, history, and geography, and its role in the management and conservation of resources. The Park's administrators designed the course to acquaint the enrollees with the local Park Service staff and their responsibilities. [42]

Despite the accomplishments in work and the success of the educational innovations, the days of the CCC were numbered at the Park. In fiscal 1941, booming defense industries, enlistments in the armed forces, and improving labor conditions in general kept the CCC camps undermanned and retarded their volume of work. One of the Mill Creek camps was ordered abandoned on June 30, 1941 in conformity with a general order to reduce CCC camps throughout the nation. Also procurement office activities which had been handled at the Park were ordered moved to the National Park Service Region Two office in Omaha at the end of the fiscal year. [43] Still CCC enrollees were engaged on sixty-six jobs of more than minor importance during that fiscal year. The jobs included installation of an underground telephone cable through Fall River and Milner Passes and the reconstruction of more than twenty-one miles of transmontane telephone line. [44]

The death knell of the CCC came on Tuesday, July 1, 1942 when Congress abolished the Civilian Conservation Corps by denying it funds for the next fiscal year. Congress did, however, appropriate approximately $8,000,000 for the necessary work of demobilizing the nation's camps. [45] The order to disband affected 305 enrollees in the Park's two camps. Park spokesmen believed that the enlistment period f for one-third of the young men would have terminated on July 10. [46] At any rate, the last enrollees left the second Mill Creek camp on July 29, shortly after the abandonment of the Grand Lake camp. Five months later work was started on removing the twenty-one buildings from Mill Creek. [47]

Thus the CCC era at Rocky Mountain National Park ended. It obviously had brought many changes both to the Park and to the lives of those who had worked there. One of the early enrollees later recalled:

The Green Guard of the CCC has accomplished much. It can accomplish anything human. The one thing it will not do is to retreat into the bread lines whence Roosevelt recruited it. For the Green Guard is the vanguard of the new economic army. History has taught us that first an army makes men and that then the men make the nation. The CCC camps may be broken up, their work stopped and their men disbanded—but the Green Guard will never surrender. It will fight on, with Roosevelt, for a New Deal in which every one has the chance which he has given us. The CCC has dug in. It is here, and it is here to stay. [48]

The Estes Park Trail editorialized on both the esthetic and economic importance of the CCC. As the last enrollees left on July 29, 1942, the Trail stated

Their work will live after them in the many miles of trails they built in the wilderness, for the acres of landscaping they carried on to aid Nature healing up old construction scars and to beautify surroundings about Park buildings.

. . . . . . . . .

Needless to say, the CCC enrollees will be missed by all Estes Park, especially on evenings when they had their 'nightout' to come to the Village to see the movies or invest in soft drinks, personal supplies and novelties. And now the Villagers hope that perhaps the boys will be back again, when the war is won. There will be a hearty welcome awaiting. [49]

Time could not diminish the luster of their accomplishments. Almost thirty years after his experience in the program, Superintendent Edmund Rogers remembered that the Park had been "very, very fortunate in the CCC." [50] Perhaps the real meaning of the conservation program was best summarized in an unsigned 1934 article published in the Nature Notes from Rocky Mountain National Park. This article concluded:

The youngsters . . . came into the mountains with little or no experience. . . . They left . . . with a broad outlook and a keen insight into conservation principles. The majority of them left with a love of nature gained by intimate contact.

. . . . . . . . . .

They have acquired a wholesome love of the forests and a respect for everything which lives in them. . . . Long after the work of the CCC has been forgotten the principles which grew out of it will be in force. [51]

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004