The stock market crash of October 1929 sent the United States spiraling into the deepest economic downturn in history. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, nearly half of the country’s banks had collapsed and between 13 and 15 million Americans were unemployed. FDR called the Congress into Emergency Session five days later and proposed the Emergency Conservation Work (EWC) Act, more widely known as the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Considered a “peacetime army,” the goal of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was to recruit unemployed young men and “have them do battle against the destruction and erosion of America’s natural resources.” Originally targeted to men 18-23, the program was eventually expanded to include men 17-28. The men lived together in camps run by the U.S. Army and the program provided them with food, shelter and clothing. In exchange for their service, they received $30 a month, $25 of which had to be sent home to their families. A subgroup of the CCC program was specifically for veterans of WWI, their group was called the Veterans Conservation Corps (VCC).
In 1935, the Veterans Conservation Corps #1785 arrived in New London, Minnesota to “build” Sibley State Park. The state park had been established in 1919, but until the VCC arrived, development within its boundaries was limited. Over the next three years, approximately 200 men built roads, buildings and trails within the park. Granite buildings still stand as a reminder of their handiwork and most are on the National History Register.
The Civilian Conservation Corps program came to an end in 1942 with World War II and the dwindling need for work relief. The legacy of the program can be seen across the country through the nearly 3 billion trees they planted to help reforest America, in the more than 800 parks they built, the upgrades they made to existing parks, the updated forest fire fighting methods they helped implement, and through their building of service structures and roadways in remote areas. More than three million young men were involved in the CCC, it has been described as the most popular experiment of the New Deal.