Canyon exhibit<br>honors CCC workers
It was during a chat with her thirty-something niece when Grand Canyon National Park’s Pam Cox realized the importance of creating something to mark the 70th anniversary of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
A pair of CCC enrollees work on the trans-Canyon telephone line around 1935. These workers are attaching a wire to a pole below the redwall and near Indian Garden with one man balancing at the top of the pole. (Photo courtesy of GCNP Museum Collection)
"I was talking about CCC and she had no idea what I was talking about," said Cox, who was getting ready to create the display that can now be seen at Yavapai Observation Station. "That showed me why we need to do this and do a whole lot more to keep their memory alive."
The CCC was responsible for a large portion of Grand Canyon’s developmental history. Its creation was finalized on March 31, 1933 when signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was all part of his New Deal programs to help those suffering from the Depression.
"All over the country, we’ll see a lot about the CCC because of the 70th anniversary, " Cox said. "This is a tiny start for us ... I’m hoping people will want more."
One week after FDR’s approval, the first enrollee was being sworn in. By the end of 1935, more than a half-million men were working in 2,650 camps across the country. The first CCC camp was set up at Grand Canyon in May 1933.
"What I’m trying to do here is remind people what these guys did," Cox said. "We had different groups here located on the North Rim, South Rim and in the inner Canyon. They were all over the park."
Companies 818, 819, 847 and 2833 served at the Canyon until 1942, along with other spots around Arizona. The typical worker was a male between the ages of 17 and 26.
"Families had to be on relief," Cox said. "The boys had uniforms, food, transportation to the camps and were paid $30 per month. They worked five days, eight hours per day. Of the $30 per month they were paid, $25 had to be sent home to their families."
Each company included about 200 men (women were not eligible) and they were supervised by regular and reserve Army officers.
Cox could easily name several sites around Grand Canyon Village and Phantom Ranch that were built by CCC workers. In the village, the Community Building was constructed in 1934-35, replacing a structure that had burned the previous year. Today, it still serves as a venue for various NPS events.
Other village work that can be seen includes the Rim Trail and its rock wall, various culverts, curbs and other landscaping, and the wooden bridge north of the railroad tracks leading to the Grand Canyon Association offices.
CCC enrollees did a lot of trail work, building the Clear Creek and River trails in the inner Canyon and doing upgrades on the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails. Cox, who leads a program on CCC at Phantom Ranch, said they built the campground at the bottom of the Canyon, the NPS mule corral and the swimming pool that no longer exists.
"They also planted a lot of trees," said Cox, adding that they planted 1.5 billion across the country through CCC’s life. "Some of those trees are still down there."
Roads, bridges, erosion control and boundary fences were among the other things at Grand Canyon built through the CCC program. Some even worked with GCNP geologists in places like Tuweep, or helped curators collecting ancestral items and botanical specimens. One group worked in Rampart Cave in the western part of the Canyon collecting sloth dung.
The workers did a lot of work for America’s public lands, Cox said, but the program worked twofold and did plenty for them as well.
"Their needs were really taken care of," she said. "The whole idea was not only to get those guys back in the work force and back on their feet, but also to work on natural resources."
GCNP interpretive ranger Bob Audretsch put together a walking tour of CCC’s work in the village. In fact, a special visitor was scheduled to take an abbreviated version of the tour on Monday this week.
Louis Purvis, 95, of Fort Worth, Texas, was scheduled to visit Grand Canyon on Monday as part of the CCC celebration. Purvis authored the book "The Ace in the Hole: A Brief History of Company 818 of the Civilian Conservation Corps."
After signing books in the morning, Purvis and his wife were to take part in the walking tour with Audretsch and historian Mike Anderson in the afternoon. Audretsch and Anderson also led a full-length tour in the morning.
Cox, whose own father worked for the CCC in a state park in Washington state, said it was exciting to have to her knowledge, one of the "last remaining CCC enrollees here."
"He and the other men who worked here really gave us a gift," she said. "What we can give him could be his last look at the Grand Canyon."
Purvis was heavily involved in the construction of the River Trail and the trans-Canyon telephone line.
The exhibit at Yavapai Observation Station features several CCC artifacts, literature and photographs. Interestingly, Cox discovered and obtained several items through E-Bay. Some people, when finding out what she was trying to accomplish, ended up donating to her cause and didn’t accept money.
"The exhibit takes you from the time of FDR to today and into the future," Cox said.
Eventually, Cox hopes a display on CCC will become part of the future Heritage Education Campus. While taking time off from her job at Phantom because of a back injury, she’s been enjoying her work on CCC history, even interviewed by National Public Radio for a segment aired on the anniversary date.
"One of my biggest missions in life is to allow CCC to still be remembered," she said. "If we forget about what 3 1/2 million men did for this country, that will be a very sad day."
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