Forging an Environmentally Just Civilian Climate Corps


FDR with CCC recruits near Camp Roosevelt, Virginia, 1933. Courtesy, National Archives.

When President Biden signed Executive Order 14008 on January 27, 2021, he called for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps based on the New Deal’s original Civilian Conservation Corps. The new program would put unemployed Americans to work conserving natural resources, much like its 1930s predecessor, but also undertake projects aimed at the most urgent environmental problem of our generation—climate change.

The announcement for the proposed Climate Corps was only one paragraph long. To ensure a popular and productive program, the Biden administration must provide more details and build on the original CCC’s successes while avoiding its pitfalls.

During its nine-year existence, from 1933 to 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps succeeded on the economic and environmental fronts. Financially, it gave jobs to more than 3 million unemployed young men who earned about $700 million (the equivalent of more than $10.5 billion today). The Corps was also successful in its conservation efforts, planting more than 2 billion trees, slowing soil erosion on 40 million acres of farmland, creating 800 new state parks and developing dozens of national parks across the country.

CCC Uniform Patch

CCC Uniform Patch
The CCC hired 2.5 million young men during its nine year existence. The camps were often racially segregated. Courtesy, National Archives.

Yet, there were also significant missteps. The original Corps excluded women and older men, assigned African American enrollees to segregated camps, and placed Native Americans into a separate program. The program stumbled environmentally as well by undertaking some ecologically destructive projects, such as draining swamps for mosquito control and introducing invasive species to conserve soil. There also were problems on the economic front. The great majority of CCC projects, such as soil work on agricultural lands and the development of parks for recreational tourism, benefited mostly white rural communities.

President Biden’s Civilian Climate Corps must acknowledge and improve on this complicated history. First and foremost, the new program must be more inclusive and accept enrollees regardless of gender, age, skin color and marital status. A new CCC must also diversify geographically, locating projects more equitably throughout the country to ensure that urban and suburban communities can benefit. Finally, a new Climate Corps must be guided by scientific experts to avoid the ecological blunders of the original program.

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CCC Fighting Fires in Willamette National Forest, Oregon. Courtesy, Oregon History Project.

An updated Climate Corps must also expand its efforts to tackle a host of environmental justice problems, many in urban neighborhoods. Working with local communities to remediate toxic waste sites, mitigate pollution and develop urban outdoor recreational spaces and community gardens are but a few examples.

Most importantly, a new CCC must focus on the most pressing environmental problem of our age: climate change. Enrollees should help develop green energy systems—from solar panel installations to wind farms—and build climate-resilient infrastructure by restoring wetlands and constructing green stormwater management systems. All of this work would train those in the program for jobs in the emerging green energy sector.

Such a new and improved CCC would be hugely popular. According to polling from Data for Progress and The Justice Collaborative Institute, 79 percent of likely voters—including 80 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of Republicans—support reviving the Corps.

Planting trees in Illinois

Planting trees in Illinois
CCC enrollees planted an estimated three billion trees from 1933 to 1942. Courtesy, Cook County Historical Society.

The history of the original CCC illustrates that Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was already green.  To succeed, today’s Green New Deal initiatives—including President Biden’s Civilian Climate Corps—must also be environmentally and socially equitable.

How a New CCC Could Help Meet the Climate Crisis

Hitchhiker
CCC recruit hitchhiking back to camp, San Fernando Valley, California, 1940.
Photo Credit: Rondal Patridge. Courtesy, National Archives.

In the spring of 1933, a newly inaugurated President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was facing a confluence of environmental and economic crises. The Ohio and Mississippi River basins were flooding. The Great Plains were choked with dust. More than a quarter of Americans were out of a job. 

Roosevelt’s response to these colliding forces was to create a Civilian Conservation Corps that put young men (and only men) to work preserving soil, building trails and roads, and fighting fires. “In creating this Civilian Conservation Corps, we are killing two birds with one stone,” Roosevelt said during a fireside chat in May 1933. “We are clearly enhancing the value of our natural resources and, second, we are relieving an appreciable amount of actual distress.”

The American landscape we’re living in today is, in many ways, similar to the one Roosevelt inherited. The lockdowns imposed to stem the spread of COVID-19 have sparked the worst economic slump since the Great Depression. Heavy rains flooded the Midwest this spring, and an above-average hurricane season could do the same to the East Coast soon. Most of the West is in a historic drought, and large sections of the region are on fire


CCC crew in New Mexico laying pipe to bring irrigation and drinking water to Santa Clara Pueblo lands, 1940. Courtesy, National Archives.

It’s against this backdrop that President Joe Biden has proposed revitalizing the New Deal–era program. A single sentence in Biden’s American Jobs Plan calls for mobilizing an army of workers to conserve nature and combat the climate crisis: “This $10 billion investment will put a new, diverse generation of Americans to work conserving our public lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, and advancing environmental justice through a new Civilian Climate Corps, all while placing good-paying union jobs within reach for more Americans.”

Now, some legislators are trying to make that vision a reality. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, both Democrats, introduced a new bill that fills in some of the details of Biden’s ambitious idea. Dubbed the Civilian Climate Corps for Jobs and Justice Act, it would put 1.5 million Americans to work building climate-resilient infrastructure, reducing carbon emissions through renewable energy and conservation projects and helping communities recover from climate disasters. It would grant corps members many of the provisions on Democrats’ “social infrastructure” wish list, including a $15 an hour salary, full health care and childcare services. Corps members would also receive training and education to help them transition into union jobs. 

California Conservation Corps, 2021.

California Conservation Corps, 2021
The CCC Magalia 4 fire crew hikes to the fire line of the Dixie Fire in Plumas County, California. Courtesy, California CCC.

“It is now this generation’s turn to answer the call and meet the historic challenges of our time,” says Markey. “We don’t have time for incrementalism. We don’t have time for Herbert Hoover–type complacency. This moment demands big, bold, progressive change. This is our FDR moment.” 

Much of the environmental community has hailed the idea. Michael Brune, Sierra Club’s executive director, called it “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create good jobs for every young person who wants one and to help ensure their safety in a climate-changed world.” 

A modern Civilian Climate Corps like the one Biden, Markey, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are proposing also has wide bipartisan support among voters nationally. A recent survey of more than 1,200 likely voters found that 65 percent of respondents support the idea of a Civilian Climate Corps, with the highest support among young and rural voters. Half of those under the age of 45 said they would consider working in the corps.


Members of the Civilian Conservation Corps work to control the Malibu fire near Angeles National Forest, California, 1935. Public Domain.

There are a few notable differences between the original, Depression-era corps and the modern one proposed by Markey and AOC. The original corps only enrolled young men. Its camps were segregated. There was an entirely separate program for Native Americans, who often worked to develop their reservations for white tourists. By contrast, at least half the modern corps’ projects would take place in communities of color and rural and urban low-income communities. Half of the corps members recruited would be from those same communities. The modern corps would also respect tribal sovereignty and guarantee that at least 10 percent of its environmental justice funds went to tribal communities. 

Reforestation and tree-planting is one area in which a new CCC could learn from the old CCC, which planted more than 3 billion trees. Biden has pledged to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.


A CCC worker planting trees, 1933. Courtesy, National Archives.

Equipped with the latest findings from restoration ecology and forest management, the Climate Conservation Corps could make reforestation a pillar of its work.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is just one of the benefits. It might seem a bit rosy, but it’s possible that by connecting young Americans with each other across lines of race, class and geography, a revitalized CCC could (to steal Biden’s campaign slogan) help restore the soul of a divided nation. 

Women in the Woods

Performance

Performance
Federal Emergency Relief Camp for women in Minnesota, 1934. Courtesy, National Archives.

The Civilian Conservation Corps  (1933–42), is one of the earliest of the New Deal’s relief programs and arguably its best known. Lesser known is the CCC’s female counterpart—dubbed the She-She-She, (1933-1937), a program for women at a time when New Deal jobs programs were largely for men.

The number of unemployed women had grown to two million by 1933. Women’s rights activist and writer Helena Weed, observed, “Men thronged the breadlines; women hid their plight.” 

Soup kitchen, Chicago, 1931

Men waiting outside a Chicago soup kitchen, 1931. 
Men waiting outside a Chicago soup kitchen, 1931.Public Domain.

Though rarely seen in Depression-era photographs of soup kitchens and unemployment lines, an estimated 200,000 women were living on the streets, sleeping on subways and “tramping” the countryside. Little was done about it until First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt used her contacts and influence to advocate for them. “As a group, women have been neglected in comparison with others, and throughout this depression have had the hardest time of all,” she said.

Mrs. Roosevelt prevailed upon the president to fund a residential jobs program like the CCC for unemployed women and girls. FDR issued a presidential order in 1933 funding the program. Harry Hopkins, head of New Deal relief, tapped labor educator Hilda Worthington Smith to run the woman’s program.

Camp TERA, 1934

Camp TERA, 1934
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visits the first She She She camp, Bear Valley, New York.art.com.

The first of what would become a network of 90 residential schools and camps for women, Camp TERA, (Temporary Emergency Relief Administration) opened in June, 1933 at Bear Mountain State Park, about an hour’s drive north of New York City. Mrs. Roosevelt and Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins presided at the camp’s opening.

The program was slow getting off the ground. Applications for admission to the camps poured in from women nationwide, but eligibility was unduly strict.  Various states and organizations offered the use of their camp facilities but ran in to red tape.

The CCC, run by the U.S. Army, enlisted 300,000 men within its first three months. They were quickly deployed to camps and put to work on highly visible public service projects where they developed practical skills. They were paid $30 a month, of which $25 was sent home to their families, adding to the CCC’s general popularity. Some 2.5 million men went to work for the CCC during its nine-year run.

Such work, training and earning opportunities for the unemployed women were curtailed from the start. Joyce L. Kornbluth explains In her book, Sisterhood and Solidarity: Workers’ Education for Women, 1914–1984, “CCC administrators vetoed the national advisory committee’s recommendation that young women in the resident programs be used, as men were, in reforestation and community service projects since, they claimed, ‘work outside the camps [for women] was not practicable and the supervision and transportation costs would be greatly increased.’”

Without a work component, the women’s program appeared to be little more than a government-sponsored vacation. The program was presumed a boondoggle. Skeptics derided it as the “She-She-She.”

Once accepted to the program, women were bused to camps to live for two to three to months. They received five dollars a month for personal expenses and worked up to 70 hours a month to cover the cost of their food and lodging. No monies were sent home.

Typing 

Typing 
Learning secretarial skills at a women’s camp in Pennsylvania, 1934. Courtesy, National Archives.

Sewing, cooking, music, drama and handicrafts were staples of camp life. Some camps offered secretarial classes but the focus was on homemaking skills. One participant recalled, “Most of us got the impression that they wanted to teach us something useful if we got married immediately and that that was the only proper thing to do.”

“Workers’ education,” a curriculum developed by Hilda Smith that included English, domestic science, hygiene, public health and economics, was renamed “social civics” when the American Legion and some nearby communities complained that leftist discussions and programs were taking place at the women’s camps.

Only about half of She-She-She participants managed to find jobs when they returned home. Most employers resisted hiring women while there were men unemployed. Yet, many women who joined the She-She-She reported that the experience had improved their health and given them a new outlook on life.

FERA camp

FERA camp
African American women at segregated camp in Atlanta, Georgia, 1934.Courtesy, National Archives.

“The camp was ideal for building up run-down bodies and renewing jaded spirits,” wrote civil rights activist, Pauli Murray, of Camp TERA. Another woman recalled, “It seemed like someone did have an interest in whether we lived or starved. And was trying to help.”

The She-She-She camps closed on October 1, 1937.  Over its four-year existence, the program served 8,500 women.

For more on the She-She-She, read Joyce L. Kornbluth’s essay, The She-She-She Camps: An Experiment in Living and Learning, from her book, “Sisterhood and Solidarity: Workers’ Education for Women, 1914-1984.”

Why Not a Beauty New Deal?

Berkeley Rose Garden, Berkeley, California

Berkeley Rose Garden, Berkeley, California
Architect Bernard Maybeck designed the terraced garden. Constructed by hundreds of workers from the CWA and later, the WPA, the garden was dedicated in 1937.
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

Recently, progressive Democrats have proposed a Green New Deal, a massive transition to protect our planet from further damage from the juggernaut of climate change. It’s time to consider as well a Beauty New Deal to protect and restore America’s natural environment and enrich and deepen the quality of our lives.

There is an inherent human need for beauty and the vitality of creative expression. Beauty impacts all of life. Studies show that beautiful built surroundings and access to parks, nature and green space contribute to good health, social connection, altruism, equity, tolerance, reduced consumerism and increased sustainability.

While beauty’s private aspects are subject to the same unjust distribution as other private goods, beauty, as a public good, has equity as its larger dimension.

In the 1960s, amid antiwar and civil rights marches, members of Congress worked across the aisle, responding to President Lyndon Johnson’s warning that we were becoming “an ugly America” and needed to restore and protect a beautiful America for future generations.

“The Progress of the Negro Race,” 1938

“The Progress of the Negro Race,” 1938
A decorative frieze by Daniel Olney adorns the Langston Terrace Dwellings public housing complex in Washington, D.C.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Library of Congress

This led not only to expanding national, state and local parks and beautifying highways, but to beautifying urban America as well.

Encouraged by Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, Lady Bird Johnson led a broad “beautification” campaign, starting with the nation’s badly neglected capital, Washington D.C. and African American neighborhoods most deprived of natural beauty by institutional racism. The “beautification” initiative was among the most widely popular of Johnson’s Great Society.

Franklin Roosevelt’s original New Deal was multi-dimensional, not merely economic-material, but also green and beauty-oriented.

Robert Stanton Theater, King City, California

Robert Stanton Theater, King City, California
The high school auditorium, built in 1939 with WPA funding is embellished with sculpture by Joseph Jacinto Mora. The Art Modern-style building was designed by Robert Stanton.
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

With a major focus on environmental protection and restoration, New Deal programs hired artists, writers, photographers, actors, playwrights and musicians to take public art and performance to cities and s towns across America, while providing inspiration and income to hard-hit creatives. Earlier, encouraged by Theodore Roosevelt, the City Beautiful Movement that flourished during the 1890s and 1900s added parks and other public spaces to beautify American cities.

The importance of beauty has been largely neglected in public policy discussions of our times, but these bygone efforts provide a rich store of ideas to draw upon.

 

 

 

Lake Michigan Beach House

Lake Michigan Beach House
The CCC developed Michigan’s Ludington State Park, including its beautiful beach house, completed in 1935.
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

A Beauty New Deal should:

  • Provide greater public support for artists, writers, poets and performers by re-establishing the original New Deal’s WPA Arts programs
  • Educate students to appreciate, create and cultivate beauty in their communities
  • Preserve and promote natural beauty by expanding parks, wilderness areas and open spaces, while strengthening protections from commercial encroachment
  • Re-establish the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) for beautification and environmental restoration projects
  • Encourage use of property taxes for urban beautification, including planting millions of flowering and shade trees
  • Build new public squares
  • Support urban mini-farms and gardens
  • Provide “Equal Access to Beauty” through free summer camps for underserved children
  • Support “Renaissance Zones” using grants and tax incentives for beauty-led economic development in poor communities
  • Support repertory theatre and other performing arts in small towns and cities
  • Direct beautification funding to areas other than the established cultural centers, and finally,
  • Support colleges to culturally enrich the communities around them.

Even as the current struggles threaten to tear us apart, the “Politics of Beauty” can bring Americans together and closer to the America the Beautiful of which we can all be proud.

A New Deal for Birds

Paul Kroegel, the first federal refuge employee.

Paul Kroegel, The First federal Refuge Employee
FDR’s cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, established the first federal bird reservation in 1903 at Pelican Island, Florida. In all, TR named 55 bird reservations and national game preserves—forerunners of the National Wildlife Refuge System established during the New Deal.

When FDR took office in 1933, of the 120 million acres of marsh and wetlands originally found in the US, only 30 million acres remained. The population of waterfowl had reached its lowest point in recorded history—approximately 27 million birds. 

Drought had displaced not only many farmers from their land, but also millions of migratory birds. Wetlands, ponds and prairie potholes—critical to the birds’ breeding, feeding and resting—had dried up. Illegal hunting also took a toll.

FDR, an avid birder since childhood, recognized the crisis and responded by appointing three respected conservationists to a blue-ribbon Committee on Wildlife Restoration. He chose Tom Beck, the influential publisher of Colliers Weekly as chair; along with Aldo Leopold, a professor at University of Wisconsin; and Jay “Ding” Darling, a Hoover Republican and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Des Moines Register famous for lampooning politicians (including FDR), and for his passion for conservation.

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jay “Ding” Darling

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jay “Ding” Darling
Darling was said to know more about ducks and geese than most game wardens.
Photo Credit: Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation

As Douglas Brinkley writes in his book, “Rightful Heritage,” about FDR’s environmentalism, the three men argued fiercely about how the government should go about saving birds. Beck wanted “duck factories” where birds would be hatched in incubators. Leopold argued for restoring a range of habitats. Darling sided with Leopold. Alluding to Governor Huey Long’s pledge to put a chicken in every pot, Darling called for “a duck for every puddle.”

They released the “Beck Report” at a press conference in 1934. It was science based; conserved wetlands; regulated hunting; forbade meatpackers from selling wild game; focused on acquiring and restoring waterfowl habitat; and called upon Congress to appropriate $50 million to buy abandoned farms for a system of National Wildlife Refuges.

Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold
The ecologist and nature writer is best known for his book, “A Sand County Almanac.”
Photo Credit: Library of America

FDR persuaded Darling to head the U.S. Biological Survey (later the Fish & Wildlife Service), but believed that the committee’s recommendations were too ambitious and expensive to win Congressional support.

Darling resurrected the idea of raising funds through a hunting tax. Rather than simply issue a piece of paper as receipt to those paying for a hunting license, FDR, a lifelong stamp collector, hatched the idea of a stamp that would invoke the beauty of the wildlife the tax would be used to protect.

With a funding source assured, Congress passed the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act in 1934. Darling illustrated the first federal Duck Stamp. It was sold at post offices nationwide and cost one dollar. People considered them miniature pieces of art. Nearly 650,000 duck stamps sold within weeks—providing start-up funding for a National Wildlife Refuge System.

The catch was that Congress required that all monies from the Duck Stamp be spent within that year or revert to the WPA. 

J. Clark Salyer, II

J. Clark Salyer, II
Salyer is known as the “father” of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Photo Credit: Courtesy FWS.gov

That year, wildlife biologist John Clark Salyer, whom Darling hired as head of the fledgling Division of Wildlife Refuges, drove 20,000 miles, sleeping in his car, looking for possible refuge sites to buy and restore. With Duck Stamp monies, he managed to secure 323 waterfowl and upland game sites by 1935. Each refuge was created to protect an ecosystem from human destruction and, in some cases, to save individual bird species from extinction.

When Salyer took the job, the nation held 1.5 million acres in refuges. When he retired 27 years later, there were more than 28 million refuge acres. The Beck Report, the Duck Stamp, land acquisition and public awareness campaigns, increased migratory bird numbers from 30 million in 1933 to 100 million by the onset of WWII.

On the Trail of the New Deal in Yosemite National Park

Tuolumne Meadows Mess Hall, 1934

Tuolumne Meadows Mess Hall, 1934
An example of the “parkarchitecture” of the 1930s, the CCC used native materials to blend with the surrounding environment.
Photo Credit: The Living New Deal

Beginning in 1942, when I was a year-and-a-half old, and for years thereafter, I would spend all summer with my parents in Tuolumne Meadows in the upper reaches of Yosemite National Park. I didn’t know until four decades later that not far from our campground, hidden among the trees, was a mess hall built in 1934 by young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). There, CCC workers would relax and refuel between shifts on New Deal projects that made the park’s High Country hospitable to families such as ours.

Upon taking office in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order expanding and consolidating the nation’s disparate portfolio of parks under a single agency, the National Park Service. He singled out Yosemite as the New Deal’s “showcase for national park values.” 

Eleanor Roosevelt at Yosemite

Eleanor Roosevelt at Yosemite
The First Lady poses with CCC boys at the Wawona Hotel.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Yosemite Research Library

Park officials jumped at the opportunities that designation implied. Resources flowed. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes visited Yosemite. So did Eleanor Roosevelt, in a parade of Studebakers. FDR himself arrived in July 1938, touring in the back seat of an open convertible. Watch a newsreel clip of FDR’s 1938 visit to Yosemite

Today’s visitors to Yosemite who know what to look for can spot the New Deal’s legacy almost everywhere.

The 45-mile-long Tioga Road was the first project in Yosemite that put New Deal relief programs to work. Crews from the Public Works Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Bureau of Public Roads took on the reconstruction and realignment of the highest mountain highway in California. A particular challenge involved constructing a bridge over the Tuolumne River. It took until 1961 to finish the Tioga Road project.

Setting cables on Half Dome.

Setting cables on Half Dome.
The climbing cables, originally installed in 1920 by the Sierra Club, were replaced and strengthened by CCC workers.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Yosemite Research Library

The 15.7-mile road to the park’s most famous and popular overlook, Glacier Point, was completed in 1940. Along the winding route, the CCC developed one of the first downhill skiing areas in California, Badger Pass. The resort, together with the more distant Ostrander Ski Hut, a hand-hewn stone structure for long-distance cross-country skiers, established Yosemite as a destination for winter sports.

Projects continually sprang to life. One of the CCC’s most impressive achievements was rebuilding the cable system up Half Dome. New Deal agencies improved the 27-mile Wawona Road from the park’s south entrance to Yosemite Valley and paved the route to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. New entrance stations, campgrounds, vista points, parking areas, lookout towers, and picnic sites also materialized.

CCC Ostrander Ski Hut

CCC Ostrander Ski Hut
The 2-story shelter was intended to be part of a larger system of winter trails and huts along the Sierra crest that never were developed.
Photo Credit: The Living New Deal

The CCC’s signature rockwork masonry is a staple throughout the park. Today’s hiker encounters old jackhammer grooves and remnants of asphalt paving along many well-worn trails. The rock garden around the Valley’s Fern Spring is also recognizable as the Corps’ handiwork. One can even spot where the Works Progress Administration expanded the Wawona Airport—now extinct—whose runway consisted of 3,000 square feet of sod.  

Many of the CCC’s efforts, including reforestation and the removal of invasive species, blend into the park’s natural scenery. Firefighting protected it. One former enrollee recalls that during his hitch in the CCC his crew went more than a hundred hours without sleep battling a forest fire in Yosemite.

Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center

Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center
The former CCC mess hall now serves as Tuolumne Meadow Visitor Center, a High Country hub.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Andrew Laverdiere

The CCC mess hall that I overlooked for so many years now serves as the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center, its conversion completed in 1980. The building, with its steeply pitched roof, craggy exterior, and stone chimney retains the rustic architecture and handcrafted techniques that are unmistakably the work of the New Deal in Yosemite.

Learn more about major New Deal projects in Yosemite: https://livingnewdeal.org/us/ca/yosemite-national-park/ and https://livingnewdeal.org/us/ca/wawona/

A Bridge into the Forest: The CCC in Ohio’s Shawnee State Forest

Shawnee State Park, In the “Little Smoky Mountains” in southern Ohio along the Ohio River

Shawnee State Park
In the “Little Smoky Mountains” in southern Ohio along the Ohio River
Photo Credit: Credit Wikipedia Commons

Shawnee State Forest, a 63,118-acre preserve bordered by the Ohio River in Southern Ohio, began with a 5,000-acre purchase in 1922. By far the largest of Ohio’s forests (making up nearly one-third of the entire Ohio State Forest system), the Shawnee was largely inaccessible to the public until, in 1933, it became the first Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) site in Ohio.

The CCC built lakes, dams, spillways, bridges, roads, hiking trails, park shelters, picnic groves, stone grills, and overlooks, opening the forest for public recreation.

More than 1,500 CCC men worked at Shawnee. Of the seven CCC camps, four were segregated. Some 220 African American enrollees from Company 1545 were stationed at Camp Roosevelt, a camp made up entirely of World War I veterans. Having fought abroad and explored the world beyond segregation, many of these men struggled to readjust to life in the U.S. In the CCC they were guaranteed work and lodging. They were paid the same wage as white CCC members–one dollar per day.

Company 1545, A segregated, all-black unit of CCC enrollees dammed the waters of Mackletree Run and Turkey Creek, creating Roosevelt Lake, 1934

Company 1545
A segregated, all-black unit of CCC enrollees dammed the waters of Mackletree Run and Turkey Creek, creating Roosevelt Lake, 1934
Photo Credit: The Ohio State University. Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center. Wooster OH. Forestry Images Collection

The men of Company 1545 created Roosevelt Lake and built the Mackletree Road Bridge. Arguably the most significant CCC structure in the forest, the bridge was built of local honey-colored sandstone and American Chestnut timbers the men culled from the surrounding forest to flight blight.

While the Mackletree Road Bridge opened the forest for recreation and fire fighting, it also opened it to logging by state Division of Forestry. Clear cutting within Shawnee has led to degradation of the forest’s biodiversity as well as destruction of CCC works, including the Mackletree Road Bridge.

In 2017 when heavy logging equipment could no longer safely pass over the small, rustic bridge, it was replaced by one of concrete. A silver lining was the creation of a memorial to Company 1545, built from the former bridge’s weathered sandstone.

Mackletree Road Bridge, Shawnee State Park, c 1934

Mackletree Road Bridge, Shawnee State Park, c 1934
Designed by Ernest L. Gill,in the National Park Service’s “parkitecture” style, the bridge was built by a segregated, all-black unit of the CCC enrollees.
Photo Credit: Courtesy, Ohio Dept of Transportation

While much of the CCC’s physical work remains intact, significant features, like the bridge, have already been lost or closed to the public and additional threats loom. Today, some of the scenic roads the CCC had designed to promote slow motoring and give visitors access to lookouts and picnic spots have been closed to the public and are restricted to logging use. Another threat was delayed last summer when local activists rose up to contest the proposed removal of the CCC’s Churn Creek Lake. Though the project to breach the spillway was delayed, elimination of the lake is likely.

New threats to the land and the CCC-crafted landscape seem to appear daily, including a proposal to open 50-mile trails through the forest for off-road vehicles. This plan is open to public comment, but seems likely to be implemented, despite impacts to the CCC-built landscape and State’s conservation mission.

Signature stone, When the men of Company 1545 completed the Mackletree Road Bridge, they inscribed it with their “signature."

Signature in stone
When the men of Company 1545 completed the Mackletree Road Bridge, they inscribed it with their “signature.”
Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Andrew Lee Feight, Ph.D., from the Scioto Historical Series, private collection, Friendship, Ohio

This is not the future the CCC saw for Shawnee. “But it is never too late for the Ohio Division of Forestry to hear from folks who support preserving and protecting New Deal-era historic sites and structures,” says “Dr. Andrew Feight, a history professor at Shawnee State University. “With the interests of the logging industry primarily shaping forest management policy, state officials would benefit from hearing from the supporters of historical preservation and the being reminded of the original multiple-use and conservation vision of the CCC.”

For more information contact: Save Our Shawnee Forest

To send comments to the Ohio Division of Forestry, write to forestry.comments@dnr.state.oh.us, or ODNR Division of Forestry 2045 Morse Road, Building H-1 Columbus, Ohio 43229 Phone: (614) 265-6694

The story of Company 1545 and the work of the entire CCC in Shawnee State Forest has been well documented by Dr. Andrew Feight on his excellent website www.sciotohistorical.org.

CCC Memorial at Roosevelt Lake, Shawnee State Park

CCC Memorial at Roosevelt Lake, Shawnee State Park
When Mackletree Road Bridge was replaced in 2016, workers salvaged the hand-cut stones of the original bridge for a memorial commemorating the CCC men who built it.
Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Andrew Feight, Ph.D., from the Scioto Historical Series, private collection, Friendship, Ohio. Photographer: Andrew Freight

 

Time for a 21st Century CCC

Camp Roosevelt, Virginia
The first Ccc camp.
Photo Credit: Courtesy FDR Library

Franklin Roosevelt was, among many other things, a knowledgeable forester. He frequently described himself as a “grower of trees.”

Long before his entrance on the political scene, he spent years reforesting his Hudson River estate at Hyde Park.

As governor of New York, Roosevelt established a “tree army” of unemployed young men to restore the state’s abused forestland. “Forests, like people, must be constantly productive,” Roosevelt told the Forestry News Digest.

After his presidential inauguration in 1933, at the depths of the Great Depression, with millions unemployed, he persuaded Congress to create a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that, he said, would solve two crises by employing “wasted human resources to reclaim wasted natural resources.”

Planting trees, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Planting trees, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
The CCC planted a billion trees in parks, national forests, and on spent farmland
Photo Credit: Creative Commons Creative Commons

Scholars are still not sure whether FDR was aware of the William James 1906 speech at Stanford, “The Moral Equivalent of War,” in which the eminent psychologist and philosopher seeks to replace war with its moral equivalent. In lieu of the destructive outcome of wartime patriotism, James called for constructive civil service in the interests of the individual and the nation. That is precisely what the peacetime army of the CCC did.

During its decade-long run, the CCC employed three-and-a-half million young men to plant over three billion trees.

Racially integrated outside of the South fifteen years before President Truman desegregated the Armed Forces, the “Cs” recruited jobless, indigent, and often illiterate young men and gave them nutritious food, housing, health care, education, and hard work in some of the most rugged and beautiful places in the nation.

Fighting Fires, 1936

Fighting Fires, 1936
CCC enrollees battled wildfires and provided flood relief
Photo Credit: Idaho Department of Forestry

They fought beetle infestation and blister rust as well as forest fires, conserved soil, and were on call to help in the natural disasters—epic floods, hurricanes, and drought—that added to the hardships of the 1930s.

The CCC also left a vast legacy of superb rustic structures in national and state parks and wildlife refuges whose expansion and development during the 30s they were largely responsible for. Many CCC veterans recalled their service as among the happiest times of their lives and attributed it to success later in life.

Brass Button, Collar button from CCC uniform

Brass Button
Collar button from CCC uniform
Photo Credit: Creative Commons

After decades of tax cuts our national, state, and local jurisdictions are today incapable of dealing with the ever-growing danger of conflagrations such as those that recently devastated California, and the hurricanes from which Florida, Houston, and Puerto Rico are struggling to recover.

Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) has introduced the 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps Act, HR 2206, reviving a proven model to address chronic unemployment, heal our forests, and meet the challenges and consequences of climate change. It deserves our support.

 

Highway maintenance project, 1933.

Highway maintenance project, 1933
Lassen National Park, California
Photo Credit: NPS

The president and key CCC staff, 1933

The president and key CCC staff, 1933
Big Meadows CCC camp, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. Front row, left to right: Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, CCC Director Robert Fechner, FDR, Agriculture Secretary Henry Wallace.
Photo Credit: Courtesy FDR Library

 

Herbert Maier and the Parkitecture of the 1930s

Herbert C. Maier. 1893-1969

Herbert C. Maier. 1893-1969
Maier played a significant role in the National Park Service Rustic style of architecture in western national parks.

Arts & Crafts architecture—with its emphasis on native materials, skilled workmanship, sensitivity to nature, and indigenous motifs—fell out of fashion after World War I. Revival styles and the rising tide of modernism supplanted it, but so did economics: the craftsmanship it required was just too expensive in the post-war world.

So why was it revived twenty years later in the buildings and landscape design of our national and state parks in what became knows as “parkitecture?”

In two words: Herbert Maier.

Norris Museum in progress, Yellowstone NP

“Herb” Maier (above right)
Norris Museum in progress, Yellowstone National Park
Photo Credit: Courtesy National Park Service

Born into a German family and raised in Oakland, Maier was studying architecture at the University of California at the beginning of the First World War when Berkeley was a hotbed of Arts & Crafts design and thinking. The University and its alumni were also central in the founding of the National Park Service (NPS) in 1916. Among those alums was Maier’s friend Ansel F. Hall who quickly rose to the position of Chief Naturalist of the new NPS. An advocate of nature education and interpretation, Hall procured funding from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial for Maier to design an interpretive museum for Yosemite Valley.

Maier’s museum at Yosemite National Park opened in 1926. It features exhibits about the park's geology, wildlife, and history.

Yosemite Museum
Maier’s museum at Yosemite National Park opened in 1926. It features exhibits about the park’s geology, wildlife, and history.
Photo Credit: Gray Brechin

With its battered walls of massive local boulders supporting an upper story of rough logs and unpainted wooden shakes as well as its sensitive siting, the Yosemite Museum would have been right at home in the Berkeley hills, but it also apparently pleased the Rockefeller foundation enough to pay for Maier to design similar museums in Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon during the 1920s.

Private funding for such costly buildings dried up with the 1929 Crash. President Roosevelt’s creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps  (CCC) less than a month after his inauguration on March 4, 1933 gave them a new lease on life, however, when NPS Superintendent (and UC alum) Horace Albright put Maier in charge of the Rocky Mountain District based in Denver. At the same time he made Maier CCC regional officer for the Southwest. Although Maier’s administrative duties left little time to design, his roles straddling the rapidly expanding state and national park networks as well as the CCC put him in a unique position to implement design work on a scale unimaginable in the 1920s.

Yavapai Point Trailside Museum on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, 1929

Yavapai Point Trailside Museum on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, 1929
The building, designed by Herbert Maier, is now called the Yavapai Observation Station and is still in use.
Photo Credit: George A. Grant, Courtesy National Park Service

In 1935, Maier hired Ohio architect Albert H. Good to collaborate on the publication of a pattern book called Park Structures and Facilities. It featured plans and photos of hundreds of rustic structures, which CCC recruits erected on public lands throughout the U.S. 

With the end of the CCC in 1942 and Roosevelt’s death three years later, Maier lost the federal funding and work force needed to build the structures he believed best suited the nation’s parks. Tastes were changing as well with a shift to modern design in park visitor centers and museums. Maier remained with the NPS until 1962, but his retirement was unfortunately brief. He died in Oakland just seven years later. The handsome rustic structures enjoyed by millions throughout the nation are his enduring legacy.   

NPS logo, Maier's imprint on the Park Service includes the design of the arrowhead logo.

NPS logo
Maier imprint on the Park Service includes the design of the arrowhead logo.

The Norris Museum was conceived as a gateway to the overlooks and trails of the geyser basin.

Herbert Maier designed four museums for Yellowstone NP. Three survive.
The Norris Museum was conceived as a gateway to the overlooks and trails of the geyser basin.
Photo Credit: National Park Service

Remembering Frank Cassara, the Last of the CCC Artists
by Kathleen Duxbury

CCC and WPA artist Frank Cassara

CCC and WPA artist Frank Cassara
A portrait of the artist in his studio.
Photo Credit: ©Kathleen Duxbury 2010 All Rights Reserved

Frank Cassara, a former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and WPA artist died on January 13 at home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, two months shy of his 104th birthday. Frank’s persistence and talent earned him a place in New Deal art history. He was the last of the New Deal CCC artists.

During a 2010 interview, 97-year-old Frank and I reviewed government records detailing his enrollment as an artist in the CCC seven decades earlier, at Camp Swallow Cliff, Co. #1675-V, near Palos Park, Illinois. As Frank slowly read through the papers he looked up and said “I am starting to remember,”

Enrollees from Camp Swallow Cliff, Palos Park, IL, 1935.

Enrollees from Camp Swallow Cliff, Palos Park, IL, 1935.
CCC men working in a limestone quarry. A stone crusher is in the background.

In 1934, living in Detroit and desperate for work, Frank sent a letter to the head of the Section of  Painting and Sculpture at the U.S. Treasury Department, Edward Rowan, asking about a job:

Dear Sir, It has come to my notice that the government intends to send one hundred artists to C.C.C. camps. I am greatly interested in recording camp life and would appreciate any opportunity you could give me…. Thanking you for any information you can send me, I am, yours sincerely,

Frank Cassara

My meeting with Frank turned into two afternoons of unhurried memories—vignettes of a naïve young man, out of his element; vivid descriptions of CCC work projects, the cutting and crushing of stone at a local quarry, numbers painted on the side of a truck, and life in the barracks.

Frank brought his observations to life in the oil, watercolor, and pencil drawings he made during his yearlong CCC assignment. Exempted from heavy labor, artist/enrollees spent 40 hours a week depicting life in the camps. Their artworks were shipped to the Section of Painting and Sculpture Treasury Department in Washington, D.C.

Sandusky, Michigan Post Office mural.

Sandusky, Michigan Post Office mural.
“Cattle Drive,” by Frank Cassara, 1942

After his discharge from the CCC, Frank again found himself without a job. By then, his work was known and admired by Ed Rowan and others at the Treasury Department, and in 1937 Frank was hired by the WPA’s Federal Art Project (FAP). He several  murals in Michigan, at the Thompson School in Highland Park, a water plant in Lansing, and at post offices in Detroit and Sandusky, Michigan, eventually becoming a supervisor of the FAP for the state.

During World War II, Frank served as an artist with the Army Branch of Engineers in the American and Asiatic Pacific Theater. At war’s end, he became a professor of art at the University of Michigan, where he taught for 36 years.

Frank lived to the fine old age of 103 years and 10 months. He was drawing to the end of his life. Time spent with Frank Cassara remains a highlight of my CCC Art Projects research.