The CCC was the first federal employment program as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal” during the Great Depression, a time when unemployment was at 25% and most young men had never held a full-time job. The law establishing an Emergency Conservation Work program was passed by Congress and signed by the president less than a month after Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933. On May 29, the first twenty-nine enrollees arrived at Zion National Park. That summer, nationwide, 250,000 men between the ages of 18 and 25 began work in “Roosevelt’s Tree Army.”
These young men, all unemployed and from families receiving some sort of relief, worked 40 hours a week on a variety of conservation projects. In exchange for their work they were paid $30.00 a month, and were to send $25.00 of that home. They also received job training and experience, a place to live in the camp barracks, and three meals a day…which was particularly valuable in that many of the men literally did not know where their next meal was coming from before enrolling in the CCC.
Here at Zion National Park, the “CCC Boys” worked on a variety of projects that included channelization of the Virgin River near the Grotto and Zion Lodge, other flood and erosion control projects, construction of park maintenance facilities and ranger housing in Oak Creek, irrigation projects in the lower parts of Zion Canyon, landscaping and roadwork along the Floor of the Valley Road, the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, and the Kolob Terrace Road (then the road between Zion and Cedar Breaks), creation of the Canyon Overlook and Watchman Trails, building the native stone pillars and signs at the south and east entrances of the park, and construction of the South Campground which included landscaping, road-building, and construction of numerous campsites, stone fireplaces, and this beautiful Lecture Circle with its ideal location and exquisite masonry.
Throughout the United States, more than 3 million young were employed by the CCC in national parks, forests, and other areas. Not only did the CCC create many wonderful and enduring facilities like this amphitheatre, it built up young men, giving them skills, confidence, good health, and hope for a better future. As Belden Lewis, one of Zion’s CCC enrollees wrote, “[M]any varieties of work were undertaken, and so the boys learned things that fitted them for good jobs in Civil Live.”
Visitors to Zion National Park and so many other places in the country owe a great dept of gratitude to the young men of the CCC. Their legacy here, most certainly lives on.
Travel back in time with Park Ranger Brian Forist and discover the amazing impact the Civilian Conservation Corps had in Zion.