Do you think the thousands of boys who boarded buses and left their homes to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps had any idea of the impact the experience would have on them and their country?
The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps is immeasurable. Although we can count the miles of trails built, even the numbers of trees planted, we cannot quantify the lives enriched and improved. Not then and not since.
For every one of the two million CCC boys, there’s a story: a boy who grew up, a family helped, and a job well-done that set the stage for the future of many places, among them, Shenandoah National Park.
The Legacy continues for future generations. Because of the tremendous success of the CCC, spin-off organizations have developed over the years, each with a similar mission of giving young people the opportunity to make a difference in conservation work on public lands. One such organization is the Student Conservation Association.
“My friend told me about SCA. She had done two or three different internships. And, um, she’s done them all over the U.S. and she had such a fantastic time and so she just told me all about her different experiences and she loved it. So everything I heard from her was really positive so I decided to give it a shot.”
“I think that the SCA, um, has a very strong connection to the CCC organization. I didn’t realize this for my first internship, but this internship I think that it’s um, I’ve heard more about it and I do see a really strong connection so I think that there are a lot of similarities because they really help you to kind of grow as a strong citizen and also, um, to really make you proud of all the things that America protects and kind of represents um and still helping to build the infrastructure um for parks just like the CCC did.”
The Youth conservation Corps is another organization inspired by the CCC.
“I do like the YCC. It’s a good experience because it allows me to get ready for another job that I may have as far as supervising goes. And also it gets me outside and I kinda like to get to the field, where I’m outside all the time.”
“Some of the main projects that we’ve worked on include the water reservoirs and basically that’s what supplies the water for all your waysides and your campgrounds up on the park itself. And the water lines that run from those places need to be clear throughout the year so in case they would need any maintenance like a water line would bust in the wintertime.
“Also, the rock walls and everything that goes along the roadways—they’re cleared off and weed eated. You can’t forget, really, when you’re up there because they have a lot of signs about the CCC and everything that they did. And it’s kind of amazing, um, that those rock walls are still there that they built and that us, as the YCC, we’re still working on them today and doing that kind of stuff.
Some of the hardest work done in Shenandoah by the boys of the CCC is not visible. Thousands of miles of water lines and phone cable lie beneath the beautiful landscape today’s visitors enjoy. And every mile was dug and laid by the boys in anticipation of the millions who would travel here to experience Shenandoah. Without their work, the park could not have hosted the generations of visitors who have stayed in its lodges and campgrounds, and hiked its trails in the decades since the boys were here.
Across the nation, the legacy of the CCC lives in our parks and recreation areas, and in the generations of young people who have been inspired to work in like-minded organizations. But another, more personal legacy of the program is in the boys themselves.
Since the first camp was established in 1933, Shenandoah has hosted a CCC Reunion. Shenandoah is the only site to have had a reunion every year hosting not only Shenandoah boys, but boys from other camps as well. And every year they celebrate and reminisce, often bringing their families to share in their past. And as they reminisce, it’s clear that the CCC experience was a defining moment in their lives.
Throughout the country and in Shenandoah, you can feel and see the "spirit of the CCC." But the places they transformed still need protection today. The legacy of the CCC is the gift and responsibility we inherit.
In remembrance of the CCC, the bronze statue "Iron Mike" stands in front of Shenandoah's Byrd Visitor Center.
One of the legacies of the Civilian Conservation Corps is the legacy of inspiration. The work, dedication, and pride of the CCC experience has inspired others for decades. Now, let it inspire you!
Spend about a week researching and talking to people about organizations that depend on volunteers. As a class, generate a list of local (or larger with local affiliates) groups. Try to identify as many as you can. With each, include a short description of its mission. For example, does it help people in trouble like Red Cross; does it help some natural feature like Friends of the Shenandoah River, or does it provide a service, like Performing Arts Luray? At the end of the week, review the list and share some thoughts about it.
As the culminating activity of this unit, be inspired by the civic-mindedness of the CCC and choose one of the projects below:
- From the list your class generated, choose the organization you feel is most worthy of your time. Write a journal entry about the organization you chose and explain why it is worthy. Then volunteer! Continue to write in your journal about your experience. Take photos, video, and otherwise document what you do and how you contribute to the goals of the organization. Prepare a presentation about your experience.
- Choose some area of your local community (like a park or a playground) that needs some help to make it better - more useable or accessible - to the people. Make a list of all the "things" that need to be done to achieve your goal. After you have made the list, put the "things" in priority order - what should be done first? Who can you ask for help? Who can help fund the project? How long will it take? Is it feasible…can you do it? Adjust until you have a workable plan, then approach the person or group in charge of the area you want to improve. Present your plan, get their input and permission, and then...Do It!
- One of the projects that the CCC boys accomplished was to make picnic tables for the park. A copy of the original design used by the CCC has been included. With a group, plan, organize, design, build, and place the picnic table in an appropriate place. Click here (pdf, 475 kb) for a copy of the plan the CCC boys used to build picnic tables.
Suggestions: have a member of the group keep a video record of the work, record all the hours worked, ask for donations of materials and knowledgeable help from a woodworker, sell raffle tickets for the completed table, donate the proceeds to a conservation-oriented organization…Are you ready? On your mark, get set, GO!!!