August 5, 2018

1933-41: Army of Young Men Save & Improve the Prescott National Forest

One of Franklin Roosevelt's most popular Depression programs was the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The CCC enrolled unskilled and unemployed men between the ages of 18 and 25. The men primarily came from families on government assistance.

Each worker received $30 per month (that's $600 today) plus room and board at a work camp. However, the men were only allowed to keep $5 of their pay. They were required to send the rest back home to help support their needy families.

The Prescott National Forest had many of these work camps and the legacy of their work is still with us today.

The story of that work is quickly becoming lost to history. "No records can be found in state or federal archives for CCC work in the Prescott National Forest." Fortunately, the newspaper did document some of the activity, particularly in the early years.

Three weeks after legislation was signed to create the Civillian Conservation Corps, "the county was notified (that) three CCC camps were coming to Yavapai county. A week after that, the Forest Service was asking for bids on trucks for the CCC." The following week base camp locations were announced. They were to be located at Groom Creek, Crown King, and Walnut Creek. Later, on July 17th, another camp was established at Thumb Butte.

"Some corpsmen received supplemental basic and vocational education while they served. In fact, it’s estimated that some 57,000 illiterate men learned to read and write in CCC camps." In Prescott, the newspaper reported "specially prepared educational motion pictures and lantern slides" being presented at the camps.

"Uncle Sam's boys on the forest are on a 40-hour work week basis with Saturday and Sundays off for recreation and rest." In the camps, workers lived in pyramid tents on platforms with wooden common buildings. Remnants of some of these camps can still be found.

Throughout the years the CCC was active in the Prescott forest, it worked steadily on the eradication of Twig Blight--a fungal disease that first appeared shortly after the arrival of the white-tail deer in 1915. By the 1930s, great concern arose as this fungus was beginning to spread rapidly, threatening the complete destruction of the beautiful Ponderosa Pines.

Story of a mysterious fungus that caused Twig Blight in the Prescott National Forest from 1917-1940. Offers a suggestion as to how the disease may have first entered Yavapai county.

Ultimately, 90,000 acres were treated to eradicate Twig Blight. This meant cutting down the effected trees and burning them immediately. This work was dangerous as at least one man died and several more were injured while working in the trees.

Injured workers were sent to the Ft. Whipple hospital. "CCC admissions appear to have been significant at Fort Whipple, sometimes totalling as many as 12% of the total hospital admissions."

After only a few months, considerable work had been achieved. Work at Walnut Grove included reconstructing the Camp Wood road, prairie dog eradication, trail work, building fences, and water tanks. They also built a protective levee. Unfortunately, two of the workers had to be dismissed; one for mutiny and one for drunkenness.

The Groom Creek camp completed some road work that is still with us today. They straightened sections of Senator Highway as well as building the first 3/4 miles of the Quartz Mountain road. They built forest lookouts, foot trails, barns, and fought six wildfires.

Thumb Butte camp began building Thumb Butte road and installing telephone lines. A side camp near Mayer built stock tanks, constructed area roads and bridges, worked on erosion control and built the ranger station there.

A comprehensive listing of buried treasures, still undiscovered, in Yavapai county, Arizona.

After the first three years, the paper listed the CCC's accomplishments to date: constructed or reconditioned 11 miles of telephone lines; replaced 3 lookout towers; improved the recreational areas at Mingus mountain, Wolf Creek, Indian Creek, and Powell Springs; developed 2 more springs; erected 61 miles of fence; constructed 6 stock tanks; 64 miles of new roads with 8 new bridges; repaired 13 miles of old roads; developed the Crown King ranger station; and extinguished 90 forest fires!

"The Forest Service in Region 3 (where Prescott is located,) became dependent upon CCC labor for firefighting purposes." In 1937, no fire burned longer than 24 hours--a tremendous accomplishment during a time when a primary goal was to suppress all fires.

In appreciation of all their efforts, the Chamber of Commerce would hold annual picnics for the CCC workers full of food and fun. Otherwise "there were recreational trips to Prescott every Saturday afternoon, movies at the two theaters and visits to the establishments of Whiskey Row, if of age."

Construction of the fairgrounds
After completing the Thumb Butte Road and the recreational area there, the Thumb Butte camp moved to the then outskirts of town to build the old fairgrounds.

As the years passed by and the CCC continued to do its good works, particulars of their daily activities became less newsworthy.

Still, the projects they accomplished are still being enjoyed today. These include the building or improving of the recreational centers at Mingus Mountain, Lynx Creek, Horseshoe Basin, Indian Creek, and Granite Basin (as well as its dam.) Granite Basin was one of 40 water projects completed by the CCC over the years. Additionally, the CCC put out 150 forest fires; erected 191 miles of fencing; and eradicated prairie dogs from 29,000 acres.

Other roadwork that was constructed or repaired during the CCC's term include the Mingus Mountain road (Highway 89A today); the road from Cleator to Crown King; a road from Senator Highway to Horsetheif Basin; the road from the Mingus summit to Allen Springs; and the old railroad bed that ran from Jerome to Perkinsville was converted for automobiles.

In the end the CCC became a model for future conservation programs. More than 100 present-day corps programs operate at local, state, and national levels engaging young adults in community service and conservation activities.

The CCC's legacy still lives with us today.


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"We Still Walk in Their Footprints" by Robert W. Audretsch. Dog Ear Publishing, Indianapolis, IN. 2013. ISBN: 978-1-4575-1783-9. Pgs. 75-88.

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