Thirty-five years ago, my wife and I camped one winter in a Mississippi state park. Only two other campsites were in use, occupied jointly by a party of 10 or 12 men.
It turned out these gentlemen had built the park while working for the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. They dispersed, lived their lives, but kept in touch. One became a teacher, another worked for General Motors in Detroit, and so forth.
They reunited once a year to catch up on each others' lives and revive old memories. We listened to their stories in amazement. They led us around the park, sharing stories about their work, laughing as they recalled some mishaps, becoming serious as they remembered comrades who had passed away.
Until then, the CCC was just one of those initialed projects from the New Deal that I had to memorize for high school history tests.
Now I understood how Franklin Roosevelt's initiative created jobs for a dispirited America, taught specific skills and imparted a sense of satisfaction for completed efforts, and left forestry and recreational infrastructure that survives to the present day.
Martin Podskoch has collated a wealth of information on the regional impact of this program in his book "Adirondack Civilian Conservation Corps: History, Memories and Legacy of the CCC."
Early chapters sketch out concepts and workings of the CCC. The program accepted single men ages 18 to 25, paying each $30 a month but requiring that $25 of that be sent home to families. Organization was handled by the Army. Men followed rigorous daily schedules. So-called LEMs (local experienced men) were hired to teach enrollees unaccustomed to such labor.
The remainder of the book describes individual camps, lists projects and accomplishments, and memorializes individual anecdotes..
Forestry projects were paramount. The fondly nicknamed "Tree Army" planted saplings on abandoned farmland. Men fought disease by destroying gypsy moth egg clusters, and digging up gooseberry and currant bushes that spread blister rust to white pines. Not infrequently, CCC men helped fight forest fires.
Telephone lines were erected. Campgrounds - from Cumberland Bay to Cranberry Lake to Pixley Falls?- were constructed. Many still-used hiking trails were blazed by the CCC. At Potsdam Normal School, a toboggan slide was built. Erosion control on streams and rivers was another priority. Lest one worry that the men were driven too hard, outdoor work was cancelled when temperatures plunged more than 20 degrees below zero.
Education programs offered basic literacy skills and specific trades. Some camps published newsletters. A few men wrote about activities for newspapers back home.
Camps competed against each other in baseball and on field days. Out-of-town professional actors occasionally put on plays. Movies were screened regularly. Buses brought men to nearby towns for dances and socializing. More than a few CCC enrollees married local women and settled in the area.
Naturally, there are surprises. Men in the Lake Placid camp stayed in the rather luxurious Whiteface Inn while awaiting completion of their own facilities. A couple of CCC camps later became detention centers for German and Italian prisoners-of-war during World War II. And I admit I'd never considered the value of packing horse manure around water pipes to prevent freezing.
The book would have benefitted from more proofreading and editing. I'd have appreciated more general background material. An index, plus alphabetical listing of those quoted, would have been welcome additions.
Still, Podskoch preserves a wealth of information that otherwise would be permanently lost. In doing this, the author has performed an important service for posterity. It's a volume I'm happy to have in my library.
This review reflects the individual view of the reviewer, not the views of the Adirondack Center for Writing or the Enterprise.