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historic photo of the Civilian Conservation Corps

Civilian Conservation Corps lends muscle to park projects

When the Great Depression hit the country in 1929, it completely ravaged American life, leaving millions on the brink of poverty. In 1933, almost immediately after taking office, President Franklin Roosevelt created several New Deal programs, including the Civilian Conservation Corps, to help address the problem.

The CCC was a massive public works program that was “to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal employment, and confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control and similar projects.” The corps was very important to the development of state parks in Michigan.

In the summer of 1933, about 200 young men from Hamtramck and Detroit arrived at an isolated spot in the eastern Upper Peninsula, where they set up tents and named the area Camp Raco – the first CCC camp in the state.

These men had been through a process of inoculation and orientation at Camp Custer in Battle Creek before coming to the U.P. Within months, 41 similar CCC camps housing a total of nearly 8,000 men popped up all over northern Michigan. 

Forestry schools at the University of Michigan and Michigan State College lent tools necessary to get the CCC camps going after private industries were caught unaware by the corps mobilization.

The CCC in Michigan primarily was staffed by Michigan natives, unlike the composition of the CCC in other areas. Furthermore, the Department of Conservation had conducted a survey to determine possible projects that could be undertaken with federal funds for conservation work. Throughout its nine-year existence, the CCC was dependent on the close work of the Department of Conservation and federal agencies in inspecting and approving projects apart from managing many state CCC camps.

Michigan led efforts in developing education programs for CCC enrollees. In 1935, through an arrangement with the Michigan superintendent of public instruction, 74 CCC enrollees from many camps across the Lower Peninsula received their eighth-grade diplomas. By June 1940, in one of the first of its kind efforts in the United States, 900 eighth-grade diplomas had been issued through the program.

The CCC undertook a variety of projects that were important to the development of Michigan’s state parks system. For example, the corps constructed a bathhouse at Ludington State Park, a large limestone picnic shelter at Indian Lake State Park and several structures and a decorative gateway at Bewabic State Park. At Wilderness State Park, the CCC boys built three cabins and constructed eight miles of trail. They also built a caretaker’s residence from fieldstones at Wilson State Park and a bathhouse made of logs and stone in Hoeft State Park.

The corps also was instrumental in the planting of millions of trees in Michigan to reforest areas impacted by extensive logging and fires. They also earned money, half of which was sent home to their families.