Civilian Conservation Corps; Remembering Camp Forgotten

| 3/13/2009 3:46:02 PM

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgIt was coincidence last week that in two different sources, I ran across mention of a brief period of American history that made a big impact on many lives. I was reading the book, Lizards on the Mantel, Burros at the Door. It’s a fascinating autobiographical account taken from the author’s letters and journals from 1944 to 1946. The book chronicles Etta Koch's life after she, her husband and three daughters leave their comfortable home in suburban Cincinnati, fit whatever they can into a 23 foot trailer and follow her husband's dream of making natural history films in what was to become Big Bend National Park in Texas. Throughout the book, Koch makes reference to the Civilian Conservation Corps – the remnants of an abandoned CCC camp had been turned into Park Service Headquarters, and the “CCC boys” built some of the roads in the area.

CCC souvenir

I may have heard about the Civilian Conservation Corps, or even read a paragraph or two about it in a high school history book; I remember neither. It was an article in our local newspaper that appeared shortly after reading Koch’s book that spurred my interest in learning about this Depression-era program. The newspaper article announced a CCC film documentary would be shown at the college campus in town, to be followed by a discussion led by the filmmaker.

Camp ForgottenIt’s not surprising I don’t remember the CCC. Though it was one of the most popular programs of its time, “The CCC was one of the most overlooked chapters in American history,” says filmmaker, author and songwriter, Bill Jamerson. “Most of their efforts were forgotten – only remembered by the trees that grew silently in their absence.” His PBS documentary “Camp Forgotten” strives to make remembered the stories and efforts of the more than 3.5 million young men who were given the nickname “Roosevelt’s Tree Army.”

As part of newly elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal package, the Civilian Conservation Corps was an environmental program designed to both put unemployed young men back to work during the Great Depression, and to aid in the restoration of the country’s natural resources.

Across the nation from 1933 to 1942, “The CCC Boys” planted over 5 billion trees, built National Parks, fought forest fires, prevented soil erosion, and helped to construct the country’s infrastructure. Here in Michigan, in addition to building roads, bridges and buildings, over 484 million trees were planted. It’s interesting to think that many of those white, jack and red pines may have come from the nursery where I work; the timing is right – the nursery started in 1932 as a conifer seedling nursery, supplying large quantities of evergreens to aid in the reforestation of the thousands of square miles of pine forest ravished by the lumber industry.

Cindy Murphy
6/21/2009 1:48:38 PM

What an interesting story, Mr. Matteson; thanks for stopping in to share it! It must have been some exciting (and a little bit scary?) times for a young boy, catching a bus to a different city like that. I'm wondering though, what a "blind pig" is exactly.

bill matteson
6/17/2009 12:40:24 AM

As a kid we Lived in Osage city Kansas, My father was in the CCC Camp, My mother,sister and I lived in town. My father was in charge of the mess hall holding the rank of sergent, and a recient graduate of the cooks and bakers school,( I still have his diploma) Dad made excellant whiskey,I used to go with him to deliver to all the speakeasys and blind pigs in the area, one night he came flying through our door, put a wad on money in mom's hand and then drove us out somewhere on the highway, where we were picked up by a greyhound to Chicago. He showed up about a month later just as we ran out of money. Bill Matteson age 73 Harvard IL

Cindy Murphy
3/19/2009 6:34:18 PM

Hi, Lori. It's interesting when you think about it, isn't it....things that have always been there ever since we can remember must have got there somehow. But how, and by whom? Like the CCC Road on your mountain, I wondered after learning about the CCC, if our nursery played a part in their history. I knew the nursery started in the '30s by a man named Walter Studley, and supplied seedlings for reforestation, but I never gave a thought as to who planted all those seedlings. It's kind of a shame things like this - a part of our country's history - often go unremembered. Jamerson's film, Camp Forgotten, seems to be aptly titled.

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