In 1933, President Roosevelt proposed a work relief program to combat the hunger, poverty, and staggering unemployment of the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) offered young, unmarried men food, shelter, training, and a starting pay of $30 a month--$25 of which went home to their families--in exchange for work in construction, conservation, and forestry. The men could work for the program for up to two years, after which they had gained enough training and work experience that hopefully they would be employable outside the program.
The Civilian Conservation Corps arrived in the Inland Northwest in May 1933, headquartered at Fort George Wright. By 1938, the Ft. George Wright District of the CCC was home to 260 companies stationed in camps across four states--eastern Washington, Idaho, northeastern Oregon, and western Montana--with roughly 42,000 members. Each company had a different “Work Project” aimed at improving the landscape, infrastructure, wildlife, and forests adjacent to their camp.
In addition to offering pay, job training, and room and board, the CCC also offered its young recruits education and recreation opportunities. Vocational courses, offered to help make the men more employable, were available on over a dozen subjects, with some of the most popular being auto mechanics, truck driving, woodwork, cooking and baking, map reading, and farm engineering. As many young men had been forced to drop out of school to help support their families during the worst years of the Great Depression, the Ft. George Wright education program offered them the chance to earn diplomas through elementary, high school, and even college correspondence courses. Additional activities such as billiards, drama, leadership classes, first aid classes, motion picture shows, and field trips were also available to men during their time off.
The work of the Civilian Conservation Corps had a lasting impact on the landscape of the Inland Northwest: The Ft. George Wright District was responsible for the clearing and creation of many roads, bridges, and campsites, with the men of Camp Seven Mile creating Riverside State Park and the roads and buildings at Mount Spokane State Park. Soil conservation, fire and flood control, and reforestation helped reduce hazards and promote the health and safety of the Northwest’s forests: blister rust control saved over 200,000 acres of white pine timber in the first six years of the Ft. George Wright program alone.
The Civilian Conservation Corps was not intended to be a permanent agency, and as the economy improved and America headed to war, Congress voted to close the program in 1942. During its nine years of operation, over three million men worked for the CCC across the nation, gaining an education, work experience, and a steady income for their family.