The boys and men of the CCC were not lumberjacks like the Spruce Division or the 20th Engineers. They were first envisioned as re-foresters (hence the moniker).
But they also built bridges, fire lookout towers, buildings, truck & foot trails, minor roads & landing fields, and public camps & picnic grounds. They fought forest & range fires and in Gillette Wyoming they extinguished many subterranean coal fires that had been burning for years. They did surveying, erosion & flood control, rodent & mosquito control, plus dug wells, and installed telephone poles & thousands of miles of phone line. They stocked fish, and improved streams, ponds & lakes, built minor dams, and rehabilitated grazing on rangelands. They even carved a Greek style amphitheater out of solid rock at Mount Tamalpais State Park, California.
Bluebloods in the Army bureaucracy in DC were initially against the CCC when FDR proposed it. Their job was training soldiers to fight. They did not want their officers instructing basic hygiene and a modified form of Army discipline to young men on welfare, or what they considered poor white trash that had only rarely seen soap and never seen toilet paper, and also the blacks, Indians and sons of ghetto immigrants that were volunteering for the CCC.
Bit one Lieutenant Colonel (acting full bird) at Fort Screven in Georgia by the name of George Catlett Marshall thought it a good concept. He was one of the first to throw himself into the additional duty of setting up seventeen CCC camps in South Carolina and northern Georgia. Later when transferred to Fort Moultrie as Commander of the full 8th Infantry he set up an additional fifteen CCC camps, staffed them, and supervised the mobilization of the volunteer youth that would fill those camps. He had them trained and he established remedial education programs, athletic programs and expanded health care services. He sent most of his regimental officers off to run the camps and ran his regiment with First Sergeants.
My guess is that Marshall was intrigued with FDRs intent for extremely rapid activation of the CCC as he (Marshall) still remembered the slow mobilization of the AEF in WW1. It had taken a full year after the AEF was formed before American fighting units arrived in France. The big Army caught on and established thousands of CCC camps across the country. Those camps never became militaristic. The CCC did however give experience to many Army junior officers in how to rapidly mobilize for war. And the camp life benefited the CCC men who in 42 went into the Army as they were offered enlistment as Corporals or in some cases Sergeants.
Later when Marshall was Commander of the 5th Brigade (3rd Division) at Vancouver Barracks Washington, he was responsible for 35 CCC camps in southern Washington and Oregon. He spent much of his time on the road inspecting those camps. After one inspection tour in 1937 he was quoted as saying the following regarding his officer’s efforts at remedial education:
“This matter of schooling, outside of the forestry, soil conservation, or other work of the companies, is in my opinion the most important phase of the CCC program at the present time. The work in the wood, on the trails, or otherwise, is the justification for the camps; but their primary purpose is to fit young men, now out of employment, to become more valuable and self-supporting citizens. On every side it has become glaringly apparent during the past two years of business revival, that hereafter the unskilled man will have a desperately hard time succeeding, much harder than ever before.”
The great majority of the work of the CCC came under the authority and guidance of the Department of Agriculture, and then secondly the Department of Interior. However, the Army Corps of Engineers did control some of the largest projects of the CCC. For example in Vermont the Winooski River often flooded killing over 120 people in 1927. So the Corps of Engineers supervised the CCC in building three major dams on the river and its tributaries. In Upstate New York the frequently flooded Walkill River ran through a large and rich agricultural valley in the Appalachians formerly known as the ‘Drowned Lands’. There The Corps supervised the CCC in digging channels and building levees instead of dams. In addition there was forestry and conservation work done on military reservations and funds had gone towards construction of CCC barracks on military posts which were later put to use as Army barracks when the war started.
Marshall is most fondly remembered for the Marshall Plan, for his leadership as Army Chief of Staff in WW2, and for his Benning Revolution at the Army Infantry School. Doesn't his foresight and leadership on the CCC program and in making the Big Army see the potential benefits also deserve credit?