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The "We Can Take It Boys"

Civilian Conservation Corps at Black Canyon Dam

This 1936 photo shows a Civilian Conservation Corps crew hard at work at Black Canyon Dam on the Payette River. These crews worked at the dam from 1935 to 1937 and lived in a camp located 2 miles upstream from the dam, where the current Black Canyon Park is now located. Black Canyon Dam is located on the Payette River and is part of the Bureau of Reclamation's Boise Project.

Born under economic conditions that many of us working today can only imagine, the Civilian Conservation Corps - the CCC's - were created in 1933 to provide jobs and hope for many Americans. In 1935, there were CCC crews working in more than 50 camps for Reclamation-related projects.

America's Great Depression was unprecedented in its length and in the wholesale poverty and tragedy it inflicted on society. At its height in 1932-33, about one third of the available labor force was unemployed. The gross national product declined by almost 50 percent from 1929 to 1933.The speed with which the CCC was created is astonishing to those of us who daily deal with 21st century bureaucracies and red tape. The President called for action from Congress on March 27, 1933 and the bill creating the CCC was on his desk for signature four days later.

The first camp was opened in mid-April and by the first of July there were 275,000 enrollees in 1,300 camps across the country. No new agencies were established to administer the CCC program, but the Departments of Labor, War, Interior, Agriculture, Treasury and the Veteran's Administration were all involved. This program moved fast. In January 1935 there were 300,000 enrollees; the number had swelled to 600,000 by June 30. As one enrollee later wrote, "No job was too big or too tough for the ‘We can take it' boys – the CCC."

The CCC crews left an enduring legacy. It is estimated that more than 2.5 million youths had enrolled in the CCC, learned skills, and even received their high school diplomas. They worked on up to 300 different types of work, so each could learn a skill. They built bridges and fire towers; trails, roads, and airport landing fields; erosion control "check" dams; irrigation and drainage ditches; and campgrounds and picnic areas. In addition, they planted trees, collected seed, stocked fish, and provided emergency work.



Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps
Perry H. Merrill. Perry Merrill, Montpelier, Vermont. 1981. Hardbound.

In the Shadow of the Mountain: The Spirit of the CCC
Edwin G. Hill. Washington State University Press. Pullman, Washington. 1990.

Last Updated: 10/18/23