They were green before ‘green’ was in: Meet the CCC

The air began to warm. Great glaciers that covered the earth slowly melted, changing the landscape in their wake, leaving behind reminders of the age of ice in the valleys, hills and lakes gouged into the terrain. Moving mountains of ice and, in time, forests and flowers surrounded the cool waters and formed Lily Lake and Chenango Lake. They formed the nucleus for sprawling farms, private cottages and finally public recreation.

In 1927, the state of New York purchased more than a thousand acres along the Chenango River and established a state park that included the lakes. The park opened in 1930 just as the Great Depression was causing economic devastation and massive unemployment.

Franklin D. Roosevelt took office as president of the United States and immediately implemented the “New Deal.” Drastic measures to revitalize the economy were put into place in record time. One of the most successful of his programs was the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps. From 1933 to 1942, more than 3 million men served in the Roosevelt Tree Army.

The “peacetime army” regulations stated only unemployed, single men between 18 and 24 who were United States citizens and in good health could apply. Although the policy was not to discriminate, there were 150 all-black CCC groups; in that era, segregation was not considered discrimination. By the time the federal program ended, more than 80,000 Native Americans had also enlisted to help improve public lands where their ancestors had roamed for millennia. They, too, served in separate units.

The CCC directive was to preserve natural resources.  The men built fire roads, fire towers, flood control dams and planted millions of trees. They also worked on drainage systems, insect control and developing park lands.

The environmental movement in America had begun.

Camps were set up in every state and possession – including company number 236, camp number 28 in Chenango Forks, N.Y. The camp was commissioned to work at the new state park. Military style barracks were constructed and building a legacy of trees and stone commenced. The men were paid $30 a month… $25 of that amount was automatically sent home to their families.

Real photo postcards preserved these moments in history – the barracks, the men and their accomplishments.  Although the CCC encampment has been gone for decades, the buildings, bridges and cabins all made from local stone, and much of the surrounding forest will survive into the future as a reminder of what government and people can accomplish when they work together.

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