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The CCC and the NPS
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    Brief History of the CCC

    National Park Service Role

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The Civilian Conservation Corps and
the National Park Service, 1933-1942:

An Administrative History
Chapter Five:
Overall Accomplishments, 1933-1942
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Dir. Fechner
Director Fechner talks to enrollee during inspection trip of camp NP-14 Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C.
Courtesy of the National Archives.

Throughout the existence of the ECW/CCC, the program provided work for 5 percent of the total United States male population. President Roosevelt's primary goal for the program was to take unemployed youths out of the cities and build up their health and morale while contributing to the economic recovery of the country. Not only would they receive wages for their work, but money would also be sent to their dependents so that the program would provide benefits to the greatest number of people. The work was to restore the enrollees to physical health and increase their confidence in themselves and the nation. A secondary goal of the program was to effect needed conservation measures on forest, park, and farm lands. A related goal was to provide the nation with increased recreational opportunities. The Park Service saw the program as a way to accomplish conservation and development within the national parks and to assist in the creation and enlargement of a nationwide state parks system. [1]

The first accomplishment of the CCC was having 250,000 young men working within three months of its establishment--the greatest peacetime mobilization of American youth. The next major accomplishment came in the coordination and development of a nationwide state parks program, one that was instrumental in establishing the first state parks for Virginia, West Virginia, South Carolina, Mississippi, and New Mexico. In 1934, Oklahoma and Montana designated their first parklands. New parks were added or existing parks were expanded in 17 other states, including New York, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, California, and Michigan, as a direct result of the program. The state parks program also gave the Park Service an opportunity to set standards for park development and planning throughout the nation. Concerning national parks and monuments, the Park Service asserted that during the first few months of operation the ECW advanced the cause of forestry work dramatically. It was estimated that millions of dollars of annual losses caused by forest fires, tree diseases, insects, rodent infestation, and soil erosion were prevented by this conservation effort. [2]

Beginning in 1933 a series of silent motion pictures was produced about the activities of the CCC in the national park areas. The motion pictures were part of a large campaign by the Roosevelt administration to gain support for the New Deal programs. By 1935 more than 30 films had been made showing work at Morristown National Historical Park, Mesa Verde National Park, and Glacier National Park, among others. The films ranged in content and design from training films for enrollees in forest conservation work to educational films for the general public on the benefits of the program for local communities and the nation. In addition, Director Fechner encouraged the parks to keep the local press informed of program activities. [3]

One sure way to focus local and national attention on the program was to have celebrities visit the camps, foremost of whom was President Roosevelt. The first presidential visit was made on August 12, 1933, to camps in the Shenandoah Valley. The presidential party included Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, ECW Director Robert Fechner, National Park Service Director Arno Cammerer, and other dignitaries. Roosevelt's inspection tour began in Harrisonburg, Virginia. By lunch time the party had reached the Park Service Big Meadows' camp on Skyline Drive, where the president stopped to have lunch with the youths--steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad, ice tea, and mock apple pie. Here a photograph session was held with reporters and a short motion picture was made in which Roosevelt talked about the progress of the program and how it had already benefitted the nation and American youth. He concluded by quipping, "The only difference between us is that I am told you men have put on an average of twelve pounds each. I am trying to lose twelve pounds." [4] During the summer of 1934, the president and his family visited Glacier and Hawaii national parks, inspecting the camps. Earlier, Eleanor Roosevelt had visited several eastern camps, including the one at Acadia National Park.

In the summer of 1934, Director Fechner visited various CCC camps and was impressed with the amount of work accomplished in national parks. The work was becoming visible to the public in the form of new trails, campground facilities, and vista clearing. Within the national parks nearly 4,000 acres of campgrounds had been developed--ranging from primitive campsites to areas with fireplaces, parking spaces, and water systems. The Park Service estimated that the overall work in national parks and monuments amounted to more than $9 million in permanent improvements, and the value of state park work was set at over $27 million for the first two years. [5]

In 1934 the Army conducted a contest to determine the finest company in each of the nine corps areas. The companies were given formal inspections and their records were reviewed by CCC officials to determine the winners. The black 323d company at Colonial National Monument won first place in the state of Virginia and second in the Third Corps area. That same year the black company from Colonial National Monument was invited to attend a William and Mary football game. Prior to the game the company marched out on the playing field, saluted the crowd, took their seats, and cheered for the home team. The William and Mary fans were delighted by the performance and sent complimentary letters to the superintendent. [6]

By 1935, but three years after the program started, Park Service officials concluded that the CCC had advanced forestry and park development by 10 to 20 years. Equally impressive was the development of state parks: 41 states now had active state parks programs that were created, developed, and/or expanded through the CCC. The variety of projects undertaken on the state level, such as constructing wading pools, restocking fish streams, and creating artificial lakes, gave the enrollees rudimentary labor skills. [7]

On July 3, 1936, President Roosevelt dedicated Shenandoah National Park. He took the opportunity to praise the contribution of the CCC in the establishment, development, and conservation of the new park and he called for establishment of a permanent conservation program. An editorial in The New York Times agreed with the president and praised the organization for providing useful employment for American youth and conserving the nation's parks and forests at a fair cost to taxpayers. A nationwide opinion poll taken in 1936 revealed that over 80 percent were in favor of continuing the CCC program, with the strongest support coming from the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast states. [8]

Early in 1937 Roosevelt approved the use of four 100-member contingents, each from a different CCC camp, to march in the presidential inaugural parade. It was requested that one company be composed of black enrollees, and the first choice for that company was the Gettysburg CCC camp. There existed concern over the transporting and housing of the men during and after the inaugural ceremony, however, and it was decided instead that the black company working on the National Arboretum would march in the parade. Two of the white contingents chosen were from NPS camps in Virginia and Washington, D.C. [9]

As of 1938 the CCC had developed more than 3 million acres for park use in 854 state parks. A third of these acres were acquired and developed between September 1936 and September 1937. The CCC had also developed 46 recreational demonstration projects in 62 areas within 24 states. By this time Park Service superintendents believed that CCC work on trails, campgrounds, and picnic areas explained the 25 to 500 percent park visitation increase that the parks were enjoying. [10] In 1938 the national parks and monuments had the best fire suppression record in a decade, an achievement attributed to the improved detection and fire-fighting methods developed during the period of CCC work. [11]

American dignitaries were not the only visitors to the CCC camps. In June 1939, King George VI of Great Britain and his queen toured CCC camps in Virginia. President Roosevelt presented the couple with a handcrafted CCC photographic album as a memento of the trip. In 1940 the Duke of Windsor visited with Roosevelt while en route to become governor general of the Bahamas. The duke asked Roosevelt if he might inspect a CCC camp as he considered adopting a similar work program for the Bahamas. President Roosevelt arranged for him to visit a camp in Virginia. [12]

Over the years the CCC camps were not only opened to royalty but to the American public. On special occasions or on days of local importance the camps often were opened for public inspection and special activities were planned for the day. Most camps held open houses to commemorate the establishment of the CCC. On the seventh anniversary of the CCC, President Roosevelt wrote a laudatory letter to Director McEntee commending the corps for its service to American youth and its protection of natural resources. [13]

By the time the CCC was terminated in 1942 a total of 2 million enrollees had performed work in 198 CCC camps in 94 national park and monument areas and 697 camps in 881 state, county, and municipal areas. Through the CCC program 711 state parks had been established. In a public opinion poll taken shortly after the beginning of World War II, the CCC was ranked as the third greatest accomplishment of the New Deal program. [14]

Today, people look back on the Civilian Conservation Corps as one of the most successful New Deal programs. Several organizations have been formed composed of former CCC members and people interested in the program. In almost every presidential campaign, one candidate or another proposes to inaugurate a new CCC program. In less than 10 years the CCC left a lasting legacy for America and the National Park Service. The extensive development and park expansion made possible by the CCC was in large part responsible for the modern national and state park systems.


Last Modified: Tues, Sep 10 2002 07:08:48 am PDT

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