A mini history of some of Summer’s very Special places

If you had a chance to enjoy a State park this summer, and it’s not over yet, it was possibly a CCC project. Back in 1932 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew that “something drastic had to be done about unemployment of youth and the waste of natural resources.” There were 5 million young men unemployed and many veterans of World War I had no work. Erosion of farmland was a huge problem; timber harvesting had gone unchecked for so long and threats of fire were common.

The “power panel” that Roosevelt gathered two days after he was inaugurated was made up of the Secretaries of War, of Agriculture, the Interior, the director of the Budget, the Judge Advocate General of the Army and the solicitor of the secretary of Department of the Interior. The plan was to have the Army be in charge of the camps, and there would be at least 500,000 youth put to work in forests, parks and range lands. And the president wanted this done in a hurry. He did not want to begin another branch of government, so that was why the collaboration of all of those agencies was critical.

At first, the Corps was called Emergency Conservation Work, and not until 1937 was called the Civilian Conservation Corps. While initially intended only for youth, there was soon a category for Local Experienced Men who had supervisory experience. 14,000 Native Americans were also enrolled, and then there 24,000 veterans of World War I. There were a few camps for women in New Hampshire and New York, but the CCC was mainly a men’s organization

Typically, they joined up for six months, and then could reenlist after another six months, up to two years. They made thirty dollars a month, twenty-five of which was sent home to their families. The government provided room, board and meals. Labor organizations felt the pay was too low, but it was no secret the program was mainly intended to get the idle off the streets and “into productive work”.

The first Camp opened officially on April 17th, 1933. It was on thirteen acres in the George Washington Forest near Luray Virginia. It was in operation the whole time the CCC existed. The work projects there were: road building and maintenance fish and wildlife management forest culture and improvements, fire hazard reduction, and recreational improvements. Fort Roosevelt can still be visited as a picnic area today.

In 1935, the peak of enrollment for the Civilian Conservation Corps was 502,000 thousand in 2, 514 camps in every state and in several territories. By 1937 enrollment had dropped to 400,00. When the President asked Congress to make the CCC a permanent agency, the Senate said “yes” and the House said “no”, and only three more years were allowed for its operation. The Corps received one more extension to operate, and improved and added more educational training. The Us Forest Service and The National Park Service were two of the main participants in CCC projects. Virginia was an example of a state where the CCC made a big difference in developing state parks. In 1933 it had only two state parks. By 1942 there were eleven more parks, new roads, water and sewer systems and more power and telephone lines.


By the time the Civilian Conservation Corps wound down in June of 1943, between 12 and 15 million people had benefitted from the monthly checks sent home, countless improvements had been made to public lands, and it had cost the country three billion dollars.   Many communities were sad to see their local camp go. Today there are about twenty CCC museums across the country, the closest one to our listening area in Bridgeport, West Virginia.

With appreciation to Stan Cohen, author of The Tree Army, a pictorial History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, for the information in this report.

Story By

Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

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