Where we came from: The Civilian Conservation Corps
Civilian Conservation Corps was the Predecessor for the Youth Conservation Corps of Today
From 1929 through 1935, the USA experienced a 55% industrial decline in its economy, resulting in massive unemployment and poverty. As an effort to create jobs and to give relief to families suffering during the Depression, the Federal Government implemented what was termed the “New Deal” by passing the National Recovery Act which included the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC operated from 1933 to 1942 with a total of 2.6 million participants including 56,000 young men put to work in Colorado.
The Civilian Conservation Corps camps were actually operated by the US Army with residential accommodations, new clothing, plenty of food, medical care and educational and career training services. The young men signed up for 6 month enrollments and lived in residential camps near the work projects. The actual work projects were provided by public land agencies such as the Forest Service, National Park Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and the Federal Land Office and the Grazing Services (later to become the Bureau of Land Management). The CCC put young men 17 to 25 years of age to work, paying $30 a month of which $25 was sent home to their family. The Corps served as a family relief program by providing some financial relief to the families living in poverty. Upon applying for the CCC, the young men were selected based on the financial needs of their family.
In the Grand Junction area, CCC camps were established at the Colorado National
Monument, Palisade, Whitewater, and on the Uncompahgre Plateau. The CCC is well known for building the Rim Rock Drive on the Colorado National Monument. The Corps lived by the theme of “Picks, Shovels and Hope”. The CCC was able to accomplish amazing work projects with a high level of craftsmanship with limited resources. Local artisans, craftsman, engineers and service workers were hired to support the camps and to help implement the projects.
The CCC was considered as a major success. The young men learned valuable work habits and skills; they have positive role models and learned leadership; and they developed a sense of accomplishment and significance by producing positive outcomes for the natural resources of the country. The young men’s families received financial aid from their sons’ work. 20% of the participants received their 8th grade diploma which would be comparable to a high school diploma today. Vocational classes were taught in the evenings and participants earned numerous certifications such as heavy equipment operations, road building and fire fighting. 80% of the CCC participants served in World War II.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s the concept of Youth Conservation Corps resurfaced as an effective tool to employ young people while accomplishing positive conservation projects. In the late 1990’s the Colorado Youth Corps Association was developed to serve as umbrella organization to certify and support local Youth Conservation Corps in Colorado. There are 10 certified Youth Corps in Colorado including the Western Colorado Conservation Corps of Partners based in Grand Junction. The Colorado Youth Corps Association and its member Corps are devoted to promoting youth development and conservation.
While there is certainly a fond connection to the work and accomplishments of the Civilian Conservation Corps of 80 years ago, the present day Corps operate a little differently. In Colorado, each Conservation Corps is a separate non-profit agency or part of a 501c3 non-profit organization or a local unit of government. The present day Corps are not operated by the military. The present day Corps work on projects provided by public land agencies similar to in the past but also there are many other funding sources and new types of projects available both in urban and in rural areas of the State. Corps depend on fee for services and grants from Foundations, public land agencies, GOCO, and federal, state and local governments.
Youth Corps train and employ both males and females. Participants may do hitches of several days camping out in the woods or on the rivers, but they do not live long term in structured camps. Youth Corps members today earn wages that they do not have to send back to their families, unless they want to. The length of enrollment varies from Corps to Corps and to the seasonal work projects. Pre-employment training, certifications, life skills training, remedial education services and access to computer labs and computer skills are part of the present day Corps experience. Qualifying Corps members are also able to earn AmeriCorps tuition credits that help pay for higher education.
Certainly there are some clear differences between the CCC and today’s Youth Conservation Corps. However, the end results are similar. Positive role models and leaders work with the youth. Many youth obtain skills to obtain full time employment or go on to college. The Western Colorado Conservation Corps administers the Internship program with the Bureau of Land Management and young people have a chance to receive full time employment with the BLM. Major environmental and public land improvement projects get completed. Young men and women learn good work habits, job skills and leadership skills. Young men and women, through hard work, develop a sense of significance, belonging and accomplishment. The fine tradition of hard work, skill development, financial improvement and a better future that started with the CCC in the 1930’s is still alive today with the Youth Corps movement.