Happy birthday Civilian Conservation Corps

Letchworth State Park Upper Falls

About 3,000 CCC workers operated in and around New York's amazing Letchworth State Park.

Prints Available

CCC improved national, state parks across the U.S.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the Civilian Conservation Corps on April 5, 1933, to provide work for unemployed young men during the Great Depression — and the fingerprints of the CCC are still visible today in many of our national and state parks.

The CCC was disbanded in 1942, but during its 9 years the program employed about 3 million men, who worked on conservation projects across the United States. These workers, who were paid $25 to $30 a month plus given education and work training, contributed to forest management, flood control, soil conservation, and improving national and state parks.

Standing on Navajo Point

Many of the overlooks of the Grand Canyon were developed or improved by Civilian Conservation Corps workers.

Prints Available

I remember as a child marveling at the rock walls lining the Blue Ridge Parkway and may of the overlooks in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, both of which were favorite vacation destinations of my father. It seemed to me an insurmountable task to stack so many rocks in such precision.

That wonder has never left me: Every time I see one of those rock walls or stand at an overlook at parks across the country, I wonder who manned the teams of men who did the grueling work to make those views and walls possible.

Mystic Morning

Its hard to imagine the amount of work required to locate, move and stack stones to create walls such as this one at the Townsend, Tennessee, entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Prints Available

The fact is that if you enjoy visiting parks created before 1946 you are likely to use roads, trails, shelters and overlooks originally created by CCC workers.

Sometimes it's hard to recognize or overlook the work done 80 to 90 years ago. Other times, however, there are blatant reminders.

Take, for instance, the River Bend Overlook shelter deep in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where a large wooden shelter stands on a peninsula to offer a panoramic view of the Little Missouri River. It's one of the most amazing viewpoints in the park.

Or what about the most famous spot to watch sunset in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? CCC workers developed much of the area around Clingmans Dome, making access easier and expanding the ability to reach this wonderful viewpoint.

Riverbend Overlook

The shelter at Theodore Roosevelt National Park's River Bend Overlook is a continued reminder of how CCC projects continue to impact our outdoors experiences to this day.

And then there's the national parks of the Southwest. Civilian Conservation Corps workers did much in places like the Grand Canyon and Zion national parks.

But they also worked in state parks in places like New York's Letchworth State Park. In fact, the CCC helped create more than 770 new state parks across the country.

In today's world where mistrust of government is all the rage, the CCC remains a shining example of good government in action. Yes, it faced opposition even then, but Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps gave unemployed men back their dignity while at the same time creating, developing and improving the lives of all U.S. citizens — and we enjoy the benefits of this government program even today.

So the next time you head to a state or national park, look for monuments to these hardworking men — and take a moment to thank them for allowing us the luxury of easily reconnecting with nature.

Autumn at the Grotto

CCC workers improved access to amazing natural treasures across the American Southwest, including Zion National Park.

Prints Available

More examples of parks improved by the CCC

Desert Stardust, big Bend National Park

Prints Available

Sheep Mountain Sunrise, Badlands National Park

Prints Available

Mirror Lake Waterfall, Blanchard Springs Recreation Area (ARk.)

Prints Available

Evening at the Great Sand Dunes

Prints Available

Dark Hollow Falls (Shenandoah National Park)

Prints Available

Sunset at Ravens Roost (Blue Ridge Parkway, Va)

Prints Available