80 years ago ... CCC part of 'New Deal' programs

| Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 7:16 a.m.

Editor's Note: This is the first of four articles about the Civilian Conservation Corps and the impact it had on the region. Today, its beginnings. Tuesday, two state parks that were constructed by CCC workers: Laurel Hill and Kooser.

The Economic Stimulus program proposed by President Obama in recent years has been extensively praised and equally protested by politicians and pundits. It was reportedly much the same for President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs of the 1930s, which provided jobs for millions of U.S. families devastated by the Great Depression.

One New Deal program — the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC — came into being 80 years ago, putting more than 2.5 million teenage boys and young men to work between 1933 and 1942.

Similar to the Works Progress Administration, or WPA, an agency that employed 8 million — mostly unskilled — men and women from 1935 to 1943, the CCC built 800 parks and recreation facilities and also planted almost 3 billion trees to reforest America. According to historic accounts, many U.S. forests had been ravaged by lumber companies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Aided young men and their families

The CCC employed boys and young men ages 18 to 25 years old. Its emphasis was the conservation and development of natural resources. Projects were done on government-owned property.

CCC workers often found themselves far from home because every state received funding. Fifty parks and forest projects were completed in Pennsylvania, including Laurel Hill State Park and Kooser State Park, both located in Somerset County.

The workers were housed in barracks, clothed and fed. They were paid $30 a month, and $25 of that was sent home to the workers' families.

When FDR assumed the presidency in March 1933, the nation was suffering economic ruin. One-fourth of the workforce was unemployed. Families were starving; $30 a month was maybe enough to stave off hunger, historians reported.

National Park Service, Army oversaw program

FDR had long been interested in conservation. He authorized the National Park Service to oversee the CCC, assisted by the U.S. Army. The young workers built new parks and upgraded existing ones. They revamped and updated forest-fighting methods. Like the WPA, which employed breadwinners who had lost their jobs, the CCC also did some road building in rural areas and built bridges and public buildings.

Laurel Hill and Kooser parks continue to thrive 80 years later; there will be an 80-year celebration on July 6 at Laurel Hill to celebrate the CCC's success.

Although WPA crews did some park projects — Connellsville's East Park, currently being restored, is one example — WPA's main emphasis was the building of municipal buildings, schools and infrastructure such as roads, bridges and retaining walls. WPA built Connellsville's Falcon Football Stadium along Arch Street. Two WPA retaining walls are along Water Street near the Amtrak station and along the road going into Dunbar Borough.

FDR's New Deal was designed to spur a flagging U.S. economy — and to boost the morale of millions of Americans suffering from long-term unemployment.

Whether or not the New Deal achieved its full economic goals is a topic still debated by many. However, it is a fact the New Deal put millions of people to work during America's bleakest years before the industrial demands of World War II helped end the Great Depression.

Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.

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