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Earth Notes
Science and Innovations

Earth Notes: The CCC and the Colorado Plateau

NPS Photo
Camp of the Civilian Conservation Corps at Pipe Spring National Monument, Arizona. 1935

In the depths of the Great Depression, the nation’s unemployment stood at 25 percent. With people hungry and desperate for jobs, President Franklin Roosevelt signed a law in March 1933 creating the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC gave jobs to single men 18 to 25 years old, with most of their thirty-dollar-a-month paychecks returned to their families.

Military-style camps were quickly set up all over the country to house enrollees. Nearly 130,000 men ultimately were sent to national parks and forests on the Colorado Plateau. Roosevelt’s “tree army” went to work here on shovel-ready projects--fighting fires; installing water lines, and building roads, dams, and bridges.

Probably less well known was their work developing recreational facilities--overlooks, campgrounds, comfort stations, picnic areas, and trails--using local rock and timber in the classic “rustic” architectural style.  Almost anywhere you go on the Plateau today, you’ll see evidence of their handiwork--a campground in the Kaibab Forest, hiking trails in Grand Canyon, the stone steps into Walnut Canyon, the museum in Mesa Verde, to name only a few.  

The Civilian Conservation Corps was much more than a jobs program. Besides the skills they learned and the valuable labor they performed, the CCCers left an indelible mark on our landscape.   

More reading:

Robert Audretsch. Shaping the Park and Saving the Boys: The Civilian Conservation Corps at Grand Canyon, 1933-1942. Dog Ear Publishing, Indianapolis. 2011.

Wayne Hinton & Elizabeth Green. With Picks, Shovels & Hope: The CCC and Its Legacy on the Colorado Plateau. Mountain Press, Missoula. 2008.