By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930s was a work relief program that provided employment to 3.5 million young men during the Great Depression.

Reviewing life as a CCC worker, on Nov. 16 at the Fergus Falls Public Library, was author, story teller, guitar player and singer Bill Jamerson. He resides in Ironwood, Michigan, east of Duluth-Superior near the south shore of Lake Superior in Upper Michigan.

Great stories from CCC men themselves, foot-tapping songs and a short video made this a rewarding experience for attendees at the public library.

The CCC presentation by Jamerson in Fergus Falls was funded, in part, through Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Sponsors were the Fergus Falls Public Library and Viking Library System.

“Young men from 17 to 25 who worked as part of the CCC built state parks, planted millions of trees, restored river banks, built fish hatcheries, fought fires and restored our nation’s natural resources,” Jamerson said.

Up to 200 civilian enrollees comprised a CCC camp, with camps spread across the entire United States. Minnesota had more than 100 CCC camps from 1933 to 1942.

Each worker received $30 in payment per month, with board and room provided by the federal government. The men were required to send $25 of their monthly earnings home to support their families. The $25 would amount to $573 in today’s dollars.

“The CCC boys came into nearby towns and helped the local economies in the 1930s,” Jamerson said. “Even $5 a month could go a long way in those days. It cost only 25 cents to be admitted to a movie theater.”

Jamerson, who authored a CCC book titled “Big Shoulders,” told attendees at the Fergus Falls Public Library that the CCC turned boys into men by giving them discipline and teaching them work skills.

Another federal program was the Works Progress Administration (WPA) which ran from 1935 to 1943. This program was designed for men over the age of 25. They carried out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) created both the CCC and WPA as emergency relief programs during the Great Depression in the 1930s and into the early years of the 1940s.

CCC camps and Itasca State Park

Visiting Itasca State Park is an annual event for many families in Otter Tail County, in all four seasons of the year. One quickly comes to appreciate the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crews.

By June 1933, CCC projects at Itasca State Park were off and running, along with projects at other locations across Minnesota.

CCC workers built new park structures, cleared lakes and ponds, improved beaches, landscaped the grounds and developed campgrounds, picnic grounds, overlooks and parking areas.

A major 1930s CCC project at Itasca State Park was a seven-foot wide concrete piling and rock dam constructed at the outlet of Lake Itasca. This stabilized the flowage. In the words of project planners, this also “made for a beautiful site at the start of the Mississippi River.”

Many visitors from Otter Tail County take the boardwalk for a 10-minute walk to the Old-Timers cabin built by the CCC. The boardwalk starts a short distance, down the hill, from Douglas Lodge.

CCC workers have a lasting legacy at Itasca State Park.