It’s About Time column: The CCC was active in our area |

It’s About Time column: The CCC was active in our area

Bill Kight

Looking through a few mementos from my father, I came across his Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) lapel pen from his time in the organization in Arizona. I believe he wore it proudly, as he had every right to do.

To qualify to be in the CCC, one had to be both unemployed and unmarried — and male — between the age of 18 and 25. Another requirement was the ability to work hard.

It was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program, from 1933 to 1942, and operated in the United States as a public program to provide jobs, alleviate suffering and restore prosperity to Americans during the Great Depression.

Organized by the Army, there was military-style discipline, and uniforms were worn. More than 300,000 men were enrolled in the program and lived in its 1,433 work camps.

Few people who will be attending this year’s Strawberry Days — June 21–23 in Sayre Park in Glenwood Springs — will know that it was once home to CCC Company 826. There were upwards of 200 men housed in barracks there, and fed in the mess hall. A library, bathhouse and recreation hall were also available to them.

Pay was $30 a month in addition to room and board. However, the men were required to send $22 to $25 of their earnings home to support their families.

Across the nation, the hard work part came in the form of fighting forest fires; building and maintaining roads, bridges and campground and picnic facilities; installing trail and soil-erosion devices; erecting rustic stone structures; and building wildlife refuges and fish-rearing facilities, water storage basins and animal shelters. Also, 3.5 billion trees were planted during the nine-year period the CCC was in existence.

From the Sayre Park base camp, the men built a road to Lookout Mountain and a picnic area on top. Hanging Lake trail work including a rustic shelter along the trail. They also worked on Glenwood’s airport and put up the Red Mountain Ski Area towers.

There were many “fly” or “side” camps across our area on what is now the White River National Forest, where men stayed near the projects where they were working. Some of these fly camps were near the present Piney Ranger Station, Haystack Gate on North Thompson Creek, Woody Creek, Marvine Creek and Seven Castles.

There have been a few attempts to duplicate the amazing work accomplished by the CCC during the Depression era. For example, the Job Corps was started in the 1960s as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty.

During the Great Recession of 2008 some economists thought the time was right to create a jobs program that would start a new Civilian Conservation Corps. It never got off the ground.

Last month, the Forest Service Job Corps work program that trained at-risk youth was ended by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and all 25 training centers were closed. The program was transferred to the Labor Department in an effort to make the government more streamlined and efficient.

Time will tell if the original goal of training at-risk youth how to respond to natural disasters, maintain national forests and work on rural infrastructure projects will survive.

The fact is, none of these copycats have come close to accomplishing the kind of work done by the men of the CCC.

Is it that many young people today are simply not used to the kind of rigorous manual labor demanded by the Great Depression, when desperation and hunger were motivating factors?

When you’re in Sayre Park, or next time you hike up the Hanging Lake Trail or make it to the Minturn Ranger District’s Notch Mountain Shelter, think about the contributions and sacrifices of the CCC.

Bill Kight is the executive director of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and writes a monthly column about history. He can be reached at 970-945-4448.

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