Road Trip Through History: Lake Itasca State Park and the Civilian Conservation Corps

If you’ve spent any time in state or national parks in the United States, you have undoubtedly seen buildings constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Depression— rustic lodges and cabins that are as distinctive as the public art produced by the Works Progress Administration during the same period.

The CCC was one of the first programs put into place as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. In my opinion it was brilliantly effective: a public works relief program that provided jobs and training for three million unemployed unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 25 from 1933 and 1942. (1)  They received thirty dollars a month—twenty-five of which was sent home to their families—as well as clothing, shoes, and three solid meals a day. (Not to mention medical and dental care.)  In exchange, they worked on conservation projects and developed state and national parks. It was a win all around.

I’ve been fascinated by the CCC for decades, and I didn’t really expect to learn anything new from the CCC exhibit at Lake Itasca State Park. Wrong again. Here are the bits from the exhibit that caught my imagination:

  • Minnesota had the second largest number of CCC enrollees in the nation because the state already had a plan for developing state parks in place but no resources to implement it.  Preparation pays off.
  • Enrollees learned construction skills on the job in the CCC, but they also had the opportunity for further academic and vocational training, including automobile and airplane mechanics, radio operation, geography, welding, and cooking.(2) By then end of their service with the CCC, many of the enrollees had completed a high school equivalency degree. (Finishing high school was not as common at the time as it is today.)
  • Two other groups of men worked alongside the CCC, members of the Veteran’s Conservation Corps, made up of unemployed veterans of what was still known as the Great War, and LEMs, “local experienced men”.



(1) In December 1941, a different type of public job program for young men went into effect following Pearl Harbor.

(2) Thereby creating a cadre of young men with skills that would be useful when America when to war. It is worth noting that while the departments of Agriculture and the Interior were responsible for the projects undertaken by the CCC, the army ran the camps.

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