Remembering the Three Cs of C Camp: The Legacy of the CCC in Denali

By Erik Johnson, Denali Park Historian
rows of tents on a mountainside
Photo 1. CCC Camp in 1939 from Macklin Stephens' photo album

DENA Museum Collection, 4914

Although there is much anticipation for the “historic romances of C Camp”, this article is not it. This is about the “C” in C Camp. The federal government loves its acronyms but sometimes even the acronyms are too burdensome to say aloud.

The “C” in C Camp is an abbreviated version of “CCC,” which stands for Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC was in Mount McKinley National Park for only two summers, but its impressive achievements are still seen throughout the park and are an important reminder of the New Deal’s legacy.[1]
a dirt road leading up to a tent camp with numerous orderly tents
Photo 2. CCC Camp entrance in September 1938

Ickes Collection, Anchorgage Museum, AMRC-b75-175-294

Sometimes referred to as Franklin Roosevelt's “Tree Army,” the CCC was a New Deal program created in the wake of the Great Depression that put millions of young unemployed American men back into the work force. America’s national parks became some of the biggest beneficiaries of the program, which brought workers to improve infrastructure and to advance conservation efforts.

From 1933 to 1942, nearly two million young men were employed in the CCC throughout the United States and its territories. During that time, 841 CCC camps were established in national parks and 2,500 more were set up to improve state parks.
aerial view of tents lined up near a creek
Photo 3. Aerial photo of CCC Camp in 1938

Washburn Collection, 2391, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Mount McKinley National Park received its first CCC workers in May 1938.[2]

Two hundred young men and 12 supervisors arrived at McKinley Station and almost immediately went to work on constructing a camp (at the current C Camp location near mile 3 of the Park Road) and various infrastructure projects. By the end of that summer, the CCC finished building two employees’ residences in headquarters (Buildings 12 and 13; see photo 4), moved the dog kennels/cache and cookhouse to its current location (photo 5), built water and sewer lines, constructed roads, did maintenance on telephone and power lines, completed an educational guide for the park, and landscaped the area around the new McKinley Park Hotel.
lumber near partially constructed buildings in a forest
Photo 4. CCC constructing Buildings 12 and 13 in Headquarters in 1938

DENA Museum, Herning Collection

The original C Camp consisted of 54 wall tents, a mess hall (same as the current C Camp rec hall), infirmary, shower/laundry house, office, garage, and supervisor quarters.[3] At least three more CCC side camps emerged along the park road during the program’s two-year tenure.[4]
1930s era pick up truck near chain link fencing
Photo 5. In 1938, the CCC moved the dog kennels and the dog feed cache and cookhouse from the east side of headquarters to its current location on the southwest side

DENA Museum, Herning Collection

When the CCC returned in the summer of 1939, there were 190 men and 13 supervisors. They continued road work, telephone line maintenance, and landscaping at the hotel but were also involved in the construction of three buildings which are still part of the park’s operations today: the garage at the Superintendent’s residence (Building 111, the “Rock House”), the garage and machine shop (Building 102, “Resources building”), and the Wonder Lake Ranger Station.[5]
large tents near the edge of a forest
Photo 6. The CCC spike camp located near mile 29 of the Park Road

Ickes Collection, Anchorage Museum, b75-175-336

The park wanted the CCC to return again in 1940 but it was determined that the costs of operating the program in Alaska were too high. National defense and preparation for World War II became more important priorities for CCC enrollees, and national park projects around the country were reduced. The CCC was eliminated by Congress in 1942, but evidence of its work remains in national and state parks throughout the country.
large tents lined up on an un-forested hill
Photo 7. CCC Camp at Wonder Lake Ranger Station site in 1939

DENA Museum, 21246

[1] The New Deal was a series of programs and agencies created by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration and Congress as a response to the Great Depression.

[2] The Director of the CCC, Robert Fechner, visited the park in 1937 to learn of potential projects.

[3] The original mess hall was a T shape but was moved in 1950 and made into its current L shape. After the CCC was finished using the camp in 1939, the area became a storage area until 1950, when it resumed its role as a place for seasonal housing.

[4] One was near the present-day Teklanika campground (see photo 6); another just west of the Stony bridge on the south side of the Park Road; and one near the Wonder Lake Ranger Station site (see photo 7).

[5] Constructed alongside the Wonder Lake Ranger Station was the iconic five-seat outhouse—presumably because there were a lot of laborers in the camp constructing the ranger station.

Part of a series of articles titled Denali History Nuggets.

Denali National Park & Preserve

Last updated: September 12, 2019