The New Deal represented a series of federal initiatives, yet much of its impact was felt on the state and local level. This was especially true of the efforts of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) whose workers poured into parks across the nation, transforming the landscape and making them more accessible to the public.
In this book, authors Ren and Helen Davis offer park visitors and New Deal scholars alike an important guide to the legacy of the CCC in the U.S. park system. The book checks in at nearly 400 pages, ranging from the introductory essays providing historical context, to historical and contemporary photographs, to guides to existing parks across the country.
The book’s opening offers a historical overview of the CCC, described as the largest peacetime mobilization in our nation’s history, enrolling hundreds of thousands of unemployed young men in laboring to improve public lands. Historical black-and-white images and contemporary color photographs document life in the CCC camps, which were administered by the U.S. Army. The CCC “boys” as they were called, performed the hard labor of building roads, carving out hiking trails and planting trees. Crews also formed their own sports teams that represented parks like Yellowstone in baseball and basketball. The Davis’s book also reminds us that the CCC crews reflected a policy of racial segregation.
State and national parks were hard hit by the onset of the Great Depression. Where others called for further cuts, the Roosevelt administration, according to the authors, “saw an unprecedented opportunity to combine critically needed conservation efforts with men eager for work.”
FDR and his supporters at the National Park Service recognized that the national park system that had been forged out of the conservation battles in the American West, could successfully be expanded in the East. The result was new national parks and monuments in places like Jamestown and Yorktown.
The second section of the book offers a guide to the CCC across the United States. The CCC contributed to more than 700 local, state and national parks. The book includes maps complemented by brief histories and descriptions of CCC sites in about 300 parks. The reader learns about the bridges, shelters and visitor centers in all corners of the country, with representative examples of the program in all fifty states.
While this book is a valuable addition to the libraries of scholars of the New Deal, it will be of equal interest to those readers who simply enjoy visiting and exploring state and national parks today.
Reviewed by Samuel Redman