The years of the Great Depression were some of the most difficult our nation has ever seen. There was widespread unemployment and more people living in poverty than ever before or since.
Between 1933 and 1942 over 3 million young men left their homes, traveled to unknown places where they lived in military style camps and worked long days doing hard labor in the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter. Each young man received three meals a day, a cot, a uniform, and $5 per month.
By 1942 they had planted 3 billion trees, built 205 lodges and museums, and 32,149 wildlife shelters. Installed 1,865 drinking fountains and put in 138,000 miles of trails and roads.
What conditions in our country could possibly induce these men to take such hard jobs? And how could they accomplish so much work?
This is the story of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a depression-era work relief project that changed lives and our nation.
The unbridled economic speculation of the 1920s was followed by a catastrophic financial decline which created the Great Depression of the 1930s. Industry and business slowed. Millions lost their jobs with over ¼ of America’s workforce unemployed. Thousands stood in breadlines and farmers had no market for their crops. 40% of the nation’s banks failed, and families struggled for basic food and shelter. For many the situation seemed hopeless.
In 1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president in a landslide victory by a nation desperate for change. During his campaign he had promised the American people a “New Deal.”
“In their need they have registered mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes.In the spirit of gift, I take it.”
With those words Roosevelt took charge of the country. In the first 100 days, his administration and Congress passed bill after bill creating relief agencies and greatly expanding the powers of government to control industry, business, and labor.
FDR was keenly aware of the need for conservation work throughout the country. The idea of using unemployed men in reforestation and erosion control had seen success in several states including FDR’s home state of New York. As part of his Emergency Conservation Work legislation, the Civilian Conservation Corps was created. Young men, desperate to help their families survive, flocked to join and traveled to parks and recreation areas across the nation.
And so, rock by rock and tree by tree the boys of the Civilian Conservation Corps built Shenandoah National Park. Along Skyline Drive and across the nation they laid the foundation for the recovery of a nation in distress. Out of the Great Depression came the CCC, a story of hope, hard work, enduring friendships, and a new national park in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.