Putting a generation to work

Outdoors legacy: Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps raised lasting monuments, nation's hopes.

October 20, 2001

WITH THEIR grueling labor and gritty determination, the Civilian Conservation Corps transformed and brightened the face of this nation during its darkest period.

Billions of trees were planted, a billion fish stocked, untold roads and parks carved out of the wild, many thousands of bridges and dams built.

From the depths of the Depression in 1933 to the beginnings of World War II, some 3 million CCC boys served in "Roosevelt's Tree Army" in every state. They fed their poor families, got an education and job skills and revitalized the faith of the nation.

Veterans gathered a couple of weeks ago at Shenandoah National Park, near the first CCC camp in Luray, Va., for a final national reunion and a well-deserved tribute. Only a few thousand men, mostly in their 80s, remain of this massive nation-building army that created national parks and entire state parks systems.

Shenandoah was a creation of the CCC, a national park established as recreational retreat for the mid-Atlantic region. The corps replanted entire hillsides with young trees and flowering shrubs and laid out the breathtaking Skyline Drive along the ridgeline. Today's lodges, campgrounds and the 100 miles of hand-chiseled stone walls that line the drive were crafted by CCC volunteers.

The New Deal program attacked unemployment and poverty -- corpsmen were chosen from families on relief and had to send home $25 of their $30 monthly pay. Job-creating manual labor was favored over efficient machinery. The military-style camps and discipline also helped prepare the CCC generation for World War II.

The war ended the corps' activities. Other programs followed, but none so sweeping and so important in national scope and mission.

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