A few years back, my husband and I took our kids to Hyde Park (New York) to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. While there, I explained to them that during the time of the Great Depression, people did not have food, fiber, or work.
The nation’s economic problems and natural resources were suffering at an all time low. Because of those circumstances, in 1933, FDR introduced legislation for the Civilian Conservation Corps. Enrollees were comprised of U.S. male citizens between the ages of 18 and 26. As time past, the 3 million enrollees would be lovingly nicknamed the “Boys” of the CCC.
The camp operations were carried out by the U.S. Army, and overseen by the Agriculture, Interior, Labor and War departments. All 48 states, the District of Columbia and the territories of Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands had camps. There were 2,600 camps housing the Boys for whom laid the groundwork for conserving America’s Public Lands. Their steadfast efforts benefited their generation, and those that will forever follow.
Well, being one of the mom's getting in a teaching moment when I can, I brought out the photos from our Hyde Park trip while working on my documentary about Maryland's first State Forester - "Mr. Besley's Forest." During the creation of the CCC, Fred W. Besley already served as State Forester for 27 years.
Photo Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division Carl Mydans/U.S. Farm Security Administration
I told my kids I had heard on many occasions, people refer to our great State as "America in Miniature." Maybe this is because of her spectacular mountains in the west, and the Atlantic seaboard to the east. During the time of the CCC, the land was hurting due to years of agricultural over-harvesting, uncontrolled fires, soil erosion, non-sustainable logging practices, and poor flood control. You could almost hear and see her pain in the soil, the water, and surrounding animal habitats.
The Boys of Roosevelt’s Reforestation Army felt the pain too. An infliction brought on due to hunger and lack of opportunity. The federal investment of properly managed natural resources began to pay off. The land started to heal, and the paychecks went back home. Each enrollee earned $30 monthly. From those funds, an average of $25 had to be sent back home to family members.
The Boys entered the camps as the workforce for this public works project. While there, they received valuable training in building shelters (carpentry) planting trees (Ag Science), capturing photographs (communications), automotive repair (heavy equipment and truck technology), erecting bridges and fire lookout towers (structural design and drafting), and the construction of trail shelters (masonry) were a few of the projects completed. In today’s world, high students get this type of training at the State’s Career and Technology Education Centers.
Meanwhile Fred W. Besley had a handful of employees. Under his direction, the Boys worked on projects that could not have been done otherwise. They rolled up their sleeves and got to work by building 274 bridges, constructing 3,500 erosion check dams, reducing 23,000 acres of forest-fire hazards, improving 60,000 acres of forest stands, and the planting of 4,500,000 trees. All those trees helped with soil erosion and provided cleaner water and air. Wildlife species numbers started to increase. I would say that FDR was right when he said, "a nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.” Indeed, over the period of nine years, the CCC Boys changed the course of a nation and our planet.
The Boys left the camps as men. In 1942, the program CCC program ended along with the career tenure of 36-years of continuous service from Fred W. Besley. So the next time you are out visiting one of Maryland’s forests or parks, remember the Boys of the CCC, and this Besley phrase; “When is the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago, and the second best time - now.”
Reflecting on my teaching moment example, here is another way you can help 4th-grade learners experience the contributions made by the CCC. Included below is a downloadable Universal Design Learning Plan. The material is tied to STEM & Humanities curriculum.