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Civilian Conservation Corps

From Academic Kids

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Civilian Conservation Corps workers restoring the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was created on March 31, 1933, in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first month in office. The CCC was an interdepartmental work and relief program that sent young, unemployed men from the cities to work on conservation projects in rural areas at a dollar a day. The CCC is credited with constructing many buildings and trails in state and national parks still treasured today, and other work related to land conservation, etc.

The Labor Department's role was to recruit participants into the program. To do this, the employment service was hastily beefed up and mobilized. Within a week there was organized within it a National Re-Employment Service to handle recruitment. The first enrollee entered the CCC on April 7, 1933, just 37 days after President Franklin Roosevelt's inauguration. In a short time there were 250,000 young enrollees working in CCC camps all around the country. Enrollment peaked in September 1935 at about 502,000. One of the most successful and well-received New Deal programs, by the time the CCC disbanded in 1942 several million young men had participated.

In Roosevelt's second fireside chat on May 7, 1933, he spoke about the CCC in a radio address to the American people:

"First, we are giving opportunity of employment to one-quarter of a million of the unemployed, especially the young men who have dependents, to go into the forestry and flood prevention work. This is a big task because it means feeding, clothing and caring for nearly twice as many men as we have in the regular army itself. In creating this civilian conservation corps we are killing two birds with one stone. We are clearly enhancing the value of our natural resources and second, we are relieving an appreciable amount of actual distress."

In addition to construction work in national parks, other CCC projects included installation of telephone and power lines, construction of logging and fire roads, fence construction, erosion control, tree planting, and even beekeeping, archeological excavation, and furniture manufacture. The CCC also provided the first truly organized wildland firefighting crews for government agencies such as the United States Forest Service.

CCC enrollees worked 40 hours a week and were paid $30 a month, with the requirement that $25 of that be sent home to the enrollee's family. Initially, the CCC was limited to young men age 18 to 25 who were on relief. Two exceptions to the age limits were veterans, who had a special CCC program and their own camps, and older people with needed skills, hired by the CCC to supervise the young men on the job. These older CCC members were known as "LEMs", for Local Experienced Men. In 1937, Congress changed the age limits to 17 to 23 years old, and dropped the requirement that enrollees be on relief. Members enrolled for six months, with the option of enrolling for another six months. The CCC was organized into camps around the nation, with the first camp in George Washington National Forest in Virginia. Eventually over 4,000 camps would be established.

The CCC was a relief agency formed because of the economic realities of the Great Depression, but also came to be seen as a rite of passage by its enrollees, and became one of the most popular New Deal programs among the public at large. After the CCC disbanded, the federal agencies responsible for public lands administration went on to organize their own seasonal fire crews, roughly modeled after the CCC, which filled the firefighting role formerly filled by the CCC and provided the same sort of outdoor work experience to young people.

Despite Roosevelt's desire that U.S. Congress make the CCC a permanent agency, Congress failed to do so. Congress did pass several bills extending the life of the CCC. The last extension passed was in 1939, extending the CCC until June 30, 1943. Due to the changing manpower and budgetary needs after U.S. entry into World War II, this was to be the last extension of the Civilian Conservation Corps. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, all CCC work, except for wildland firefighting, was shifted onto U.S. military bases to help with construction there. The agency disbanded one year earlier than planned, after Congress voted to cut off funding for the CCC entirely after June 30, 1942.

In 1976, Governor of California, Jerry Brown, initiated the California Conservation Corps. This new program differed drastically from the CCC of old in that its aim was primarily at youth development rather than economic resuscitation. Today it is the largest, oldest and longest running youth conservation in the world.

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