Among the state parks and campgrounds recently proposed for closure, five have a special link to another time in American history when our economy was in the dumps.
Rainbow Falls, Lewis and Clark, Gingko Petrified Forest, Saltwater, Beacon Rock and Mount Spokane state parks were all built during the Great Depression by the “CCC boys” — young men who joined the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Walt Bailey, 89, of Marysville was among them. Most often President Franklin D. Roosevelt is called the father of the CCC, but the idea actually came from Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, Francis Perkins, Bailey told me.
In the 1930s, with unemployment at 25 percent, the CCC was open to men ages 17 to 25 whose parents were unemployed. Most came to the job poor, hungry and unable to even finish high school. All but $5 of their $25 monthly pay was sent directly to their parents to sustain the family back home.
Part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Emergency Conservation Work Act passed in 1933 and evolved into the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937.
The idea was to conserve America’s national resources and, at the same time, give young men training and purpose.
In 1939, the pay went up to $30 with $8 for the worker and $22 for his parents. That’s when Bailey joined and was sent to Camp Darrington, not all that far from his family’s home in Marysville. “My folks were on relief, so that money really helped them out,” he recalled.
Initially he cleaned debris and weeds from roadsides and then joined a trail crew. He went on to Verlot where he built trails in the national forest, and to Whatcom County as well. “We built trails and roads until the summer came, then we fought fires and stood fire watch,” he said.
Proud of the work that he and other CCC workers accomplished, Bailey proved it with numbers: 800 state parks, campgrounds totaling 52,000 acres, 3,980 historic buildings repaired and restored, 3 billion trees planted and much more.
Hard work, discipline, purpose and accomplishment made them stronger, he said, and proud to serve their country. Many, like Bailey, left the CCC and enlisted in America’s military forces. “I was discharged from the CCC in March 1941 and nine days later I joined the Army,” he said.
Bailey went to Hawaii for basic training and was on duty at Fort Shafter when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
He came home in 1945 and got a job at Weyerhaeuser where he worked for 34 years. Today, he still chops his own wood, one of those tasks he did routinely 70 years ago when he first served his country at Camp Darrington.
In 1998, he heard about a group of CCC alumni forming in the Everett area and was among the first to join. More recently, the alumni groups have become part of the Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy, an organization committed to reminding Americans today of the great impact that group of young men had on America. You can find out more about the group at www.ccclegacy.org.
Bernice Phelps heads Chapter 5, the Seattle-based Legacy group. “My husband was a CCC boy” she said with great pride in her voice. “My husband, Allan, planted trees, fought forest fires and helped build many of the trails around Mount Hood, and landscaped the area around Timberline Lodge.”
The Phelpses joined the CCC alumni group in 1998. After her husband’s death Bernice Phelps remained active in the organization.
Last year, as the CCC celebrated its 75th anniversary, she and Bailey were among those representing “our CCC boys” as she calls them at festivities in Deception Pass State Park. There, an information center holds photos and other memorabilia from that era.
Today, as America struggles to rebuild a damaged economy and rising unemployment, it is good to remember what we have always been able to accomplish when we work together to make our country better. Walt Bailey and all those other “CCC boys” proved it day after day.
Linda Bryant Smith writes about growing older, surviving and finding a little gold in the golden years. You can reach her at email@example.com.