Why we should still honor the legacy of the men of the Civilian Conservation Corps

If you’ve ever ventured more than 100 yards from the parking lot at a national park or monument, chances are good that you’ve enjoyed the benefits of the crews of the Civilian Conservation Corps. They’re the young men who, back in the Great Depression era, were put to work constructing trails, lookout points and shelters on many of the public lands in the United States.

Group of Civilian Conservation Corps men standing at attention by a flagpole under the cliffs of Zion National Park.
Zion National Park Archives (Courtesy: nps.gov)

What is the Civilian Conservation Corps?

Here’s how the National Parks Service describes the program on nps.gov:

As part of the New Deal Program, to help lift the United States out of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. The CCC or C’s as it was sometimes known, allowed single men between the ages of 18 and 25 to enlist in work programs to improve America’s public lands, forests, and parks.

For many, just the prospect of three meals and a bed were enough to get young men to enroll. As jobs and income were incredibly scarce, the CCC for a lot of these young men was their first job. Enlisters would make $30 a month, $25 of which would be sent straight to their families, while the other five was for the worker to keep. Meals and lodging were provided in military camp fashion.

Education opportunities were an added bonus of joining the C’s. In fact, many completed their high school education while serving. Leadership advancement positions with an increase in pay were also offered to hard workers.

On a visit to Colossal Cave near Vail, AZ, this monument dedicated to the CCC worker reminded me of their important role in our country’s history.

Statue of CCC worker
This statue representing the Civilian Conservation Corps worker stands at the Colossal Cave visitor center near Vail, AZ.
Plaque next to statue honoring the CCC worker
Plaque next to statue honoring the CCC worker

I think of these men often as I travel around the Grand Canyon State checking places off my Arizona Bucket List. For me, there’s a sort of kindred connection when I see monuments dedicated to the men of the CCC when I visit public places.

Here’s a video clip in honor of the CCC men that I felt compelled to record on one of my hikes in Chiricahua National Monument:

I’ve always “dug” working the land with hand tools. Sometimes I fantasize about the lifestyle of a CCC worker and wonder if I might have joined the corps had I grown up in that era.

Next time you’re out enjoying our public lands, think about how those trails got there. If you’re in a place that’s been designated as a national park or monument, chances are good that the hard-working CCC crew members made it possible for you to enjoy it.

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