Downtown Dundee

St. John's Lutheran Church

Volunteer Fire Department

Backbone State Park and Beach

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)



The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was created in 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide work for young men who could not find jobs because of the Great Depression. By putting these men to work on resource conservation projects across the United States, President Roosevelt intended the CCC to help solve two of the country's most serious problems, unemployment and resource degradation. In Iowa, the CCC built parks and preserves, planted trees, worked on drainage projects and assisted farmers in soil conservation efforts.
CCC Museum sign.

Exterior view of CCC Museum.

The first white settlers in Iowa lived very much like the Indians. But after the Civil War, the population grew rapidly and farming became a big business. The prairies were plowed, wetlands drained, trees cut and the natural balance that had made Iowa "the Beautiful Land" was upset. By 1900, farmland, towns and roads covered most of Iowa. Some towns had small parks, but there were no large parks or state preserves. As the natural landscape disappeared, there were fewer and fewer places for wildlife to live and for people to relax and enjoy Iowa's natural beauty. By the 1920s, when high costs and low prices forced farmers to get everything they could out of the land just to make ends meet, erosion and resource depletion were becoming very serious problems. Everyone agreed that something had to be done, but resource conservation required planning and money. These were in short supply but help was on the way. Both the state and federal government stepped in during the Great Depression to work on the problems that threatened Iowa and its people.

Did You Know??

  • The CCC restored 3,980 historical structures and developed over 800 state parks. There were over 4,500 CCC camps in every state and territory, including Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

  • Through their efforts, soil erosion was ultimately arrested on over 20 million acres. They stocked over one billion fish and spent 4,827,426 man days surveying and mapping millions of acreas and hundreds of lakes. They built 46,854 bridges and 4,622 fish rearing ponds. The CCC installed approximately 5,000 miles of water supply.

  • They improved 3,462 beaches, transplanted 45 million trees and shrubs for landscaping and planted over 3 billion trees where forests were logged and burnt off.

  • They spent 2,094,713 man days razing undesirable structures and built 63,256 buildings plus 8,045 wells and pump houses.

  • The CCC spent 6,000,258 man days in the operation of tree nurseries, and they built 7,622 impounding and large diversion dams.

  • They erected 405,037 signs, markers and monuments. They collected 13,632,415 pounds of hardwood tree seeds and 875,970 bushels of ones.

  • They developed 6,966 miles of wildlife streams and built 28,087 miles of foot and horse trails, and 8,034 foot and horse bridges.

  • They built 32,149 wildlife shelters, 1,865 drinking fountains and 204 lodges and museums. They also built 3,116 lookout towers.

  • The CCC built 27,191 miles of fences and 38,550 vehicle bridges.

  • The CCC spent 202,739 man days fighting coal fires which had been burning since earliest history.

  • Hundreds of thousands of CCC "boys" learned their trades in the CCC.

In 1931, Iowa's governor created one of the country's first statewide planning agencies, the Iowa State Planning Board. A group of Iowa's best scientists and scholars surveyed the entire state and made recommendations on how to conserve natural resources, build better roads and provide recreation for the people. During the Great Depression, there was little hope that much could be accomplished right away, but their work soon became the basis of Iowa's involvement with the CCC. Their report, the Iowa Twenty-Five Year Conservation Plan published in 1933, provided long-range plans for parks and preserves, soil conservation programs and highway construction around the state.

It was a great idea, but President Roosevelt needed help from the individual states to make it all work. Iowa's planning efforts paid off well, as Iowa received CCC camps before many other states because it already had a long-range conservation plan under way when the CCC was organized. By May 1933, there were 16 camps organized in the state and by the end of the year, 22 CCC companies were at work in Iowa.

Requirements for joining the CCC were simple. Enrollees had to be young, single, healthy and unemployed. They signed up for six months at a time, and were expected to work at whatever job they were given. In return, they got room and board, clothing and thirty dollars each month (most of which was sent home to their families). Beyond that, it was up to them to make of the CCC what they would.
CCC Museum display.

President Roosevelt designed the CCC as a cooperative effort among several branches of the federal government. In the field, most of the enrollees worked for the National Park Service, the Forest Service or the Soil Conservation Service, but in camp they lived under Army regulations. Built and run by the Army, CCC camps tended to look like military bases.

Building designs were standardized and most camps were laid out in similar ways, but enrollees made the camps their own with landscaping, decorations and building improvements. The young men lived by military schedules, wore uniforms, ate in mess halls and slept in tents or barracks. The Corps hired local experienced men (LEMs) to train boys as foresters, carpenters, stone masons and conservation workers.

The "3Cs" planted millions of trees, quarried and spread thousands of tons of rock, built miles of roadbed and worked on many other "grunt" jobs. It was not all work and no play, however. Ball games and wresting matches, movies, plays, concerts, dances and parties were a common part of life in camp. The men went to town as often as they could to court the women and have some fun.

All CCC camps offered education programs for enrollees. Many members got their high school diplomas through the CCC. Some even took correspondence courses from colleges. Journalism was a popular class and most camps published their own newspapers or wrote regular columns for the local town papers.

What Classes and Why??

All CCC camps offered education programs for the enrollees. These classes ranged from elementary reading and writing to high school subjects. Most camps also offered fun classes, like acrobatics and glee club, or vocational courses such as airplane maintenance and short-wave radio operation. Many enrollees got their high school diplomas through the CCC, and some even took correspondence courses from colleges. Other educational opportunities were:

  • Truck driving and servicing

  • Heavy equipment operator

  • Loader training

  • Farm mechanics

  • House wiring and rough carpentry

  • Use of tools

  • Wood turning

  • Moulding plaster

  • Photography

  • First Aid

  • Orchestra

Between 1933 and 1941, nearly 50,000 Iowans worked with the CCC, including enrollees, LEMs and officers. The Soil Conservation Service ran most Iowa CCC camps, and enrollees in their camps built dams, terraces and other erosion control structures to help stop the destruction of Iowa's farmland. At the height of activity, there were 46 camps in the state. About one third operated in state parks like Backbone, building lodges, shelters, bathhouses, cabins, latrines and bridges with logs and native stone.

Increasing prosperity and World War II brought the end of the CCC in the early 1940s. The country's conservation problems were by no means solved, but it was difficult to justify the expense of large programs such as the CCC when unemployment rates fell and the country was faced with the possiblity of war. Instead, young men joined the military and the camps were gradually torn down or converted to other uses in Iowa's parks and towns.

The CCC existed for only a short time, but some estimate its work pushed American conservation efforts ahead by fifty years. Across Iowa, in parks and on farms, the resources and facilities we enjoy today represent a living testimonial to the proud men who served in the CCC. Today, agencies such as the DNR and county conservation boards manage Iowa's public lands and waters, and it is still up to every one of us to do our part. Iowa's natural resources must be cared by for all Iowans if they are to be available for the use and enjoyment of future generations.

Saving our historic resources is also an important part of conservation. Because time has taken it toll on CCC buildings and structures, caring for these reminders of our past is an on-going project for the Department of Natural Resources.

Ecological Mistakes: Erosion and Degradation

Iowa's rich farmland soon started to show the effects of continued abuse. Farmers were caught between their need to pay the bills and the land's need for care. They could do both when times were good, but by the 20th century - when it was one depression after another - erosion and resource depletion were becoming very serious problems.

Folks were angry with these hard times. They couldn't tackle all the problems by themselves, and it didn't look like the government was doing much to help, either. Violence became common at sheriff's sales, and groups such as the Farm Holiday Association organized market boycotts in Iowa to get higher prices for their goods by reducing supplies. All of Iowa was hit hard by the Great Depression. There never seemed to be quite enough jobs or money to go around. A new day and a New Deal were coming, however, with plans and programs to make it all work again.

By 1900, farmland covered nearly the whole state. Some towns maintained small parks, but there were no large parks or state preserves in Iowa. As the natural landscape disappeared under towns, roads and plowed fields, there were fewer and fewer places for wildlife to live or for people to releax and enjoy Iowa's original beauty.

We hope that you will explore the CCC structures and our museum in the park during your visit. As you travel around the state and tour other state parks and preserves, be on the lookout for further evidence of CCC work. You may be surprised by the number and variety of structures. For more information, write:

Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Wallace State Office Building
Des Moines, Iowa 50319-0034

For details on how to reserve a campsite or cabin at Backbone State Park, visit www.iowadnr.gov, or email backbone@dnr.iowa.gov.

For more information and photos of the park, visit www.iowadnr.gov/Places-to-Go/State-Parks/Iowa-State-Parks/Backbone-State-Park.

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This page created by Dundee's own
Lisa Guenther-Rhoades

Last Modified: 07/04/21