Lasting Impression

Indiana DNR releases documentary
on Civilian Conservation Corps

Clifty Falls State Park’s
gatehouse was a CCC project

(May 2013) – Millions of visitors enjoy the beauty and serenity of state parks across the United States every year. While all take away memories of spectacular sites by the hands of nature, few realize that many of their experiences in the parks were made possible by the hands of Depression-era young men.


Photo by Patti Watson

The Clifty Falls State
Park stone gatehouses at
the north and south
entrances (pictured here)
was among the many CCC
Corp projects in Indiana.

From 1933 through 1942, 2.5 million young men took park in the Civilian Conservation Corps, created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The program’s aims were to provide employment assistance to those desperate for work and to encourage conservation of natural resources. Under the CCC, nearly 3 billion trees were planted as part of reforestation efforts and modern techniques for fighting wildfires were developed.
The CCC left a lasting mark on state parks by building much of the infrastructure that makes them accessible and enjoyable today. Roads, campgrounds, hiking trails and shelters built by the CCC workers are today in use across in the country.
Clifty Falls State Park in Madison, Ind., is one of the many public properties in Indiana that was enriched by the work of the CCC. The North and South Gate Houses, Clifty Shelter and the South Hill entrance road were all constructed by CCC workers and look much the same today as they did when built. The Nature Center was built as a CCC saddlebarn but was developed into the interpretative center enjoyed today. Clifty Falls Interpretive Naturalist Dick Davis explains that, “Our collective appreciation of America’s state and national parks and our public lands and waters simply would not be what it is without the CCC. Their achievements are worthy of our nation’s lasting esteem.”
Now, just in time for the 80th anniversary of the CCC’s founding, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources has released a 23-minute documentary detailing the experiences of Indiana men who took part in the historic program.
The video can be watched for free on Youtube and features interviews recorded with Civilian Conservation Corps veterans during the 2012 CCC reunion that took place at Turkey Run State Park. The men share stories of their time working on construction projects, living in the CCC camps, and even flirting with officers’ daughters. Pokagon State Park interpreter Fred Wooley, an expert on CCC history, provides additional information and background for the film. Ginger Murphy, Assistant Director for Stewardship at Indiana State Parks and Reservoirs, believes that now is an important time to preserve the recollections of the participants as more and more of them pass away.
“Recording first person voices is a good thing,” she reflects. She is excited to share the documentary with the public and is pleased that the story of these men is being told in a way that will reach people outside of the Department of Natural Resources. CCC veterans and family members are invited to take part in the 2013 CCC reunion, to be held Aug. 24 at McCormick’s Creek as part of the Indiana Landmark’s Experience. The DNR hopes to have a panel of CCC veterans who can share their experiences in the CCC.
The documentary interviews powerfully illustrate the ways that the CCC  impacted the men who took part in the program. Lawrence Fowler joined in 1939 and explains that as the oldest boy of 10 children, he needed to find work to help support his family. He says in his interview, “I would like to say that the whole experience was like a blessing. It was something that seemed to transform me from a boy to a man and it taught me discipline...”
The $30 a month earned by CCC workers served as a lifeline to Depression-era families as workers were expected to send most all of their pay back home. Fowler worked digging water lines and doing stone work such as building outdoor fireplaces. The skills he honed in the CCC helped him find employment in civilian life and also allowed him to enter in the Navy as a third class petty officer during World War II.
With the war came a need for workers and soldiers, so the unemployment relief provided by the CCC was no longer needed and funding for the program ended. Murphy notes that the CCC was “not a long program, but for those in it it a very effective program.”
Many of the men who entered the military found that the order and discipline learned in the military style CCC camps served them well in transitioning to their new lives as soldiers. Davis stresses that the CCC experiences “Produced a workforce of young men endowed by their CCC service for the further rigors of national defense in World War II, anchoring the ‘Greatest Generation.’ ”
The men who served at the 56 CCC camps across Indiana were not only being shaped for their own personal futures, but they were also shaping public opinion and policy. Davis highlights the importance of the program in growing the county’s view of conservation and “Established the value of natural resource conservation as public policy.”
By increasing the public’s knowledge of conservation and by building the infrastructure that would allow increased access to state parks, the CCC raised the value that citizens placed on public lands. Davis believes that it is important to remember these men who “Created works of enduring value, both materially and culturally, throughout the nation.”
Murphy agrees, saying that the CCC created a legacy that is“a part of our history that people are using today.”

• The Indiana Department of Natural Resources’s CCC documentary can be viewed online at: www.in.gov/dnr/7426.htm.

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