Morgan Falls Campground – Chequamegon National Forest WI

The CCC built a campground near Morgan Falls in the Chequamegon National Forest of northern Wisconsin. The campground flooded in 1946 and closed in 1960 due to over-saturation and unsafe camping conditions. Today, hikers and snowshoers can see fieldstone fireplaces, a well, and a round cistern along the trail that connects Morgan Falls to St. Peter’s Dome, a granite outcrop offering views of Lake Superior.

To Stand for Centuries

Red Rocks 1941

Red Rocks 1941
It took the CCC six years to build the amphitheater.
Photo Credit: Photos courtesy of Denver Public Library – Western History Collection, by Harry Rhoads

On August 4 the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service named Colorado’s Mount Morrison CCC Camp and Red Rocks Amphitheatre—both built by the CCC— as National Historic Landmarks. They are the first New Deal-era historic sites to be listed in the state. Friends of Red Rocks spearheaded the 14-year effort, with politicians, historians, and a number of musicians who performed at Red Rocks lending support.

Acclaimed as the only naturally occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheatre in the world, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, ten miles from Denver, has served as a music venue for much of the city’s history. Since the first documented performance there in 1906, which featured a 25-piece brass band, the amphitheater has hosted opera and rock stars—though rock music was briefly banned during the 1970s when fans overran the 9,450-seat venue.

The city acquired the 868-acre site on the Front Range for its Mountain Parks system in 1928. Denver’s then-parks director, George Cranmer, convinced the mayor to build a permanent stage amidst the massive slabs. With help from the WPA and the Civilian Conservation Corps construction began in 1936.

Red Rocks (1930s)

Red Rocks (1930s)
The renowned concert venue is cradled within two, 300-foot rocks.
Photo Credit: Photos courtesy of Denver Public Library – Western History Collection, by Harry Rhoads

The amphitheater was largely built by hand. The 200 men of Company 1848, Camp SP-13-C, Mount Morrison each earned a dollar a day. They learned and performed skilled labor such as stone masonry, electrical engineering, cement work, carpentry, and landscaping.

A 1936 account of the CCC in Colorado described the effort: “They are building an amphitheatre that will stand for centuries, and in generations to come this work will remain a symbol of advancement of the western culture of today…an enduring monument to the Civilian Conservation Corps in Colorado…

The Red Rocks Amphitheater was dedicated in 1941. The Mount Morrison camp closed in 1942. It is one of only a few CCC camps to remain largely intact. Denver Mountain Parks uses the buildings for offices and storage. The former mess hall houses a small museum dedicated to the CCC, with artifacts and memorabilia on display.

The camp is open to the public by appointment, in season. Email [email protected] or call 720.865.0900 to arrange a visit.

Robert Krause, Ph.D., a Research Associate for the Living New Deal, is a Historic Preservation Planner with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in Prince George’s County. He grew up in Bozeman, Montana. His grandfather and great-uncle were enrollees in the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Lake Owen Shelter – Drummond WI

Lake Owen, located within the Chequamegon National Forest in northern Wisconsin, features a typical Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) wood frame park shelter on its northeast shore. Upon completion, the shelter had changing rooms for men and women, which have since been removed. A stone fireplace remains.

The shelter underwent significant structural changes in 1960 is thus ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, Lake Owen is a popular spot for camping, boating, picnicking, and swimming. Hikers can access the North Country National Scenic Trail from the parking area adjacent to this shelter.

Book Review: Nature’s New Deal

Nature’s New Deal Nature’s New Deal makes the connection between conservation and politics in the U.S., using the Civilian Conservation Corps as the sturdy bridge between them.

Maher traces the competing visions that shaped American conservation—one advanced by Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service who advocated the “wise use” of natural resources, and the other by John Muir, who argued for nature’s preservation for the enjoyment and spiritual refreshment of the American public. Pinchot, whose influence spanned both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt’s presidencies, ultimately prevailed, commercializing the nation’s public lands.

Mahler finds the roots of the CCC at Springwood, the Roosevelt estate at Hyde Park, New York.  A self-proclaimed tree lover, FDR reforested his family lands, though his motivation was economic not ecological. FDR admired the Boy Scouts and considered outdoor labor the path to strength and character. As governor of New York, FDR added cutover private land to the state forest system and launched the Temporary Employment Relief Administration (TERA) to hire unemployed youth to plant trees. Improving the productivity of both land and people would be his call for establishing the CCC when he became president in 1933.  Congress heartily agreed, appropriating funds for the CCC, though not establishing it as a permanent agency.

The program was soon wildly popular with the public. Besides reforesting public lands, the CCC was called upon when floods, wildfires, and the Dust Bowl added to the misery of the Great Depression. By 1935, the CCC employed more than a half million men in 2,900 camps. Many went on to careers in public land management.

Maher describes how FDR strategically deployed the Corps to advance his New Deal agenda—setting up camps in Republican strongholds, creating local jobs, and repairing farmers’ ruined land. In 1936 FDR was reelected in a landslide, even winning the home state of his challenger, Kansas Governor Alf Landon.

By the late 1930s, the Corps had turned to developing the nation’s parks—constructing roads and recreation facilities, draining marshes, and extirpating tens of thousands of predators in the name of more game for sport hunters. It was this zealous domestication of America’s wildlands, Mahler claims, which raised concerns about wilderness preservation and ecological wholeness that led to the modern environmental movement.

This is a lively read for those interested in American conservation and the powerful role of the CCC—and by extension, the New Deal—on Americans’ lives and landscape.

Reviewed by: Susan Ives is a communications consultant and editor of the Living New Deal newsletter.

Susan Ives is communications director for the Living New Deal and editor of the Living New Deal newsletter.

Our Mark on This Land: A Guide to the Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps in America’s Parks

Our Mark on this LandFor anyone seeking out the finest examples of the New Deal, no road trip is complete without a copy of Our Mark on This Land. In the manner of the Federal Writers’ Project guides to the states, Helen and Ren Davis have compiled a superb illustrated guide to the extraordinary contributions made by the Civilian Conservation Corps to our national parks and forests and our state parks. Those public lands were vastly expanded during the Great Depression largely because of the labor provided by three million CCC “boys” as well as President Roosevelt’s lifelong commitment to conservation.

The book opens with a 55-page introduction to the CCC that is one of the finest summations of its origins, organization, philosophy, and accomplishments I’ve read. It introduces some of the key players including the designers of the “National Park-rustic”-style buildings featured in the book’s illustrations as well as the landscape architects who strove for an artful artlessness in the way roads, campgrounds, and lookouts were constructed.

The second section is a state-by-state guide to select parks, including maps, brief histories, and CCC-built features. “Destination parks” are provided for those seeking out the all-stars. The final section is an appendix of supporting information and an extensive bibliography about the CCC.

The book is generously illustrated with photos of parks and structures, many taken by the Davises. If the sixteen color plates whet your appetite for more of the same, I’d also recommend Cynthia Brandimarte and Angela Reed’s excellent Texas State Parks and the CCC: The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Our Mark on This Land is a work of love as well as scholarship. It will make you want to hit the road to seek out what the Davises found in their own travels. Don’t leave home without it.

Reviewed by: Gray Brechin, Ph.D. is Project Scholar for the Living New Deal.

Gray Brechin is a geographer and Project Scholar of the Living New Deal. He is the author of Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin.

Black Mountain Lookout Tower – Bighorn National Forest WY

The Black Mountain Lookout Tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and was completed in 1940. The tower is 14′x14′ with a catwalk on a stone foundation. It functioned as the lookout for the north end of Bighorn National Forest. No longer in use, the tower remains a popular hiking destination.

In the summer of 2014 the U.S. Forest Service partnered with non-profit HistoriCorps to sponsor extensive rehabilitation work on the tower. Volunteers completed a variety of tasks with the intention of the tower becoming a rental cabin or interpretive site.

Pactola Lake CCC Camp – Black Hills National Forest SD

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) maintained a camp at Pactola Lake SD from 1933 to 1940.  It was designated Camp F-4 and worked under the supervision of the US Forest Service.  Recruits at Camp F-4 worked chiefly in the Black Hills National Forest of western South Dakota.

“Camp F-4 was part of a national CCC program to renovate forests and build more recreation areas. Work projects, supervised by the USDA Forest Service, included tree thinning, pruning and planting, fire prevention and suppression; rodent, insect and disease control, grazing land improvement and recreation area development. Enrollees removed dead, diseased, suppressed and excess trees (used for posts, poles and firewood) from hundreds of acres of pine leaving enough trees to produce good quality lumber. They removed flammable debris from forests and nearby areas and quelled forest fires. CCs built firetrails and roads and erected dams, wells and fences for livestock. They manned side camps to build more roads, spread grasshopper bait, built Victoria dam and helped erect Sheridan dam.”  (CCC Legacy)

Historical markers have been placed at or near all former CCC camps in South Dakota, thanks to the efforts of the CCC Legacy when it was still active. 

Crystal Lake State Park – Barton VT

“Crystal Lake State Park consists of the park’s recreational area, the bathhouse, and the thin strip of beachfront land along the northern border of Crystal Lake in Barton, Vermont. Crystal Lake is a glacial lake nestled between the mountains and it is about three miles long and one mile wide. The park has a half a mile of sandy shoreline that extends along the north side of Crystal Lake and there is a marked swimming area with a sandy beach in front of the bathhouse. David Fried designed the bathhouse for the Vermont Forest Service in cooperation with the National Park Service. It serves as the architectural centerpiece at Crystal Lake State Park, and the Civilian Conservation Corps provided the labor for the bathhouse and the park’s construction. The bathhouse was dedicated in a ceremony on July 4, 1942 and has been used as a bathhouse for local townspeople and tourists ever since. The park was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on August 30, 2005.”   (NRHP Nomination Form)

American Island Animal Sculptures – Chamberlain SD

WPA-funded animal sculptures have been moved from the CCC camp on American Island to Main Street in Chamberlain. A squirrel and coyote were placed outside the Chamberlain Swimming Pool, and two eagles sit on either side of the Avenue of Flags where it intersects Main St.

Godakota.com and americanislanddays.com make this note about the camp and sculptures:

“There was a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp located on American Island near Chamberlain, South Dakota. The camp workers were responsible for many of the improvements on the island and around Chamberlain in the 1930s and 40s. A photo taken by Orrion Barger seen in the book “Around Chamberlain Postcard History Series” by authors Gene and Alice Olson with Jan Cerney, show sculptures made by Andre Boratko. The sculptures were supported by a special Works Project Administration (WPA) artist fund. There were eagles, a coyote, a rabbit, a squirrel, and a fawn. Some of these sculptures can still be seen today at public parks in Chamberlain, SD.”

Ten Reasons for a National Youth Service

Recruitment Poster

National Youth Administration
Recruitment Poster

Ever since the New Deal’s National Youth Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and a brief flurry of public-spiritedness during the Kennedy years, America has minimized both expectations and opportunities for public service.  Fewer Americans than at any time in our history — less than one half of 1 percent— are engaged in public service (including those serving in the military). Yet, the enormity of our country’s current challenges and chronic unemployment point to the need to give young people the chance to work helping their communities.

Here’s why we need a National Youth Service (NYS).

1. A NYS would be a job-creation program.  Sure, it would be expensive, but 6.7 million young people between the ages of 18 and 24 who are out of work and out of school currently cost taxpayers $93 million per year.

2. A NYS would be an immediate and lasting stimulus to our economy. Requiring participants to send some of their pay home (as the CCC did of its recruits) would also help struggling families.

3. A NYS would have long-term benefits for both the individual and society. The youth would obtain marketable job skills through rebuilding infrastructure, installing green energy, restoring the environment and helping during natural disasters.

4. Like the CCC, NYS youth would work and live together, helping break down barriers arising from the extremes of wealth and poverty.

5. NYS “graduates” would qualify for GI Bill benefits now limited to military veterans, encouraging college attendance and reducing student loan debt.

National Youth Association: USA Work Program Float

Parade Float, 1937
National Youth Association: USA Work Program Float

6. Military service would be one among many NYS job options, addressing the disparity of having a tiny segment of our young people—mostly disadvantaged—serving the nation.

7.  A NYS could serve to re-integrate military veterans into society.

8. A NYS fitness program would help young people lead healthier lifestyles.

9. Like the CCC, a NYS would help young people stay out of trouble that could lead to prison.

10. Most important, by offering them a greater stake in their country’s future and their own, a NYS would show young people that they are valued.

John Hooper is a farmer and environmentalist. He runs an apprenticeship program for young farmers at OZ Farm in Mendocino County, Calif. Hooper is Vice-Chair of the CA Tahoe Conservancy and an Army veteran.