July 3, 2008 · Updated 8:10 PM
The Civilian Conservation Corps is an important part of history, especially in the Northwest, where it was responsible for the making of many of our state parks trails, roads, swimming areas, picnic shelters and restrooms that are still in use 60 years after Americas young men worked for the sum of $30 a month plus board and room, with $25 of the $30 going home to their families.
The country was financially and morally bankrupt and the spirit of the people was at an all-time low, the Great Depression was upon us, and more than two million youths were aimlessly wandering the cities in search of jobs.
Franklin D. Roosevelt became president, and in the first 100 days of office he instituted a number of programs to get the country back on its feet. Among them was the Civilian Conservation Corps, the most widely acclaimed. The plan was to recruit young men into a peacetime army that would preserve the land, forests, and waters and build public parks at the same time providing money for the young people and their families who had no work.
The Department of Labor recruited the men; clothing was provided by the Army which also managed the camps. Work control was under the direction of the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Park Service, Soil Conservation Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Reclamation. In spite of all the bureaucracies involved, the program was a success.
Life in the Corps appealed to the American frontier spirit. Boys were sent all over the United States; on Whidbey Island they came from the East Coast, from New Jersey to Vermont. They had never seen the West and here they were in the midst of a forest, on an Island in Puget Sound, learning how to build trails and roads, how to build restrooms on top of rock walls, how to cut and plant timber and get along under Army supervision.
Of the 3,240,393 young men and at least one woman who worked for a dollar a day and room and board, many now say it was the best years of their lives.
Roosevelts Tree Army worked on millions of acres to slow the erosion and to replant the depleted forests. They built more than a thousand national, state, county and city parks. The CCCs in reality saved countryside that had been, for over two centuries, ravaged by rich and poor alike.
On North Whidbey and South Fidalgo Islands Deception Pass State Park is a monument to the young men of the 1930s. The building, trails and beaches continue to fascinate people from all around the world who come to visit.
In 1992, it was suggested to the State Parks Department that the picturesque log and stone pillar railings along Highway 20 on North Whidbey and South Fidalgo through the park be replaced by plastic fencing. The suggestion came to the attention of the Oak Harbor Garden Club who mustered their forces in protest. The suggestion was dropped.
Again the issue has cropped up and it looks as though the state will indeed replace the historic railings in Deception Pass State Park.
To those who have lived for many years on Whidbey Island and enjoyed the panorama and surroundings of the CCC boys handiwork of over a half century, it would be discouraging indeed to find that synthethics, polymers and other new-fangled building materials had pervaded the sacred history of the Northwest to outline one of its most beautiful roadways.
Dorothy Neil has written and recorded Whidbey Island history for more than 50 years. Her books chronicle local life and times. This column comes from her archives.