Clinton-Macomb Public Library presentation discusses CCC history in Michigan

By: Alex Szwarc | C&G Newspapers | Published July 15, 2021

 One statistic shared at a June presentation regarding the Civilian Conservation Corps in Michigan is that 484 million trees were planted — twice as many as any other state.

One statistic shared at a June presentation regarding the Civilian Conservation Corps in Michigan is that 484 million trees were planted — twice as many as any other state.

Photo by Alex Szwarc

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — In the 1930s in Michigan, many trees needed replanting, and plenty of river restoration and habitat rebuilding had to be done.

Those points and more were emphasized June 23 at a virtual program hosted by the Clinton-Macomb Public Library.

Hillary Pine, the northern Lower Peninsula historian from the Michigan History Center, gave a presentation entitled “Roosevelt’s Tree Army - The Civilian Conservation Corps in Michigan.”

The Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, operated from 1933-1942 as a voluntary public work relief program.

Pine’s presentation began with her explaining what Michigan looked like prior to the 1930s and the work of the CCC in the state.

“The white pine logging era was operating from about 1860-1910,” she said. “It did great things for Michigan’s economy and population, but it was devastating to our forests and river systems.”

It resulted in burnt, cut-over lands, with a lot of flooding and bank erosion occurring along rivers.

In his 1933 inaugural address, amid the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt outlined his New Deal plan, which called for, among other areas, a series of programs and public work projects. The deal was approved in March 1933 and included the CCC.

Pine said that, in the 1930s, Michigan’s unemployment rate rose to 34%, higher than the national average. In Detroit, she said the rate was 60%.

She explained that the CCC was a system of camps and that young men in Michigan signed up for a six-month commitment.

Enrollee criteria included being between 17-23, a World War I veteran, single men and weighing at least 107 pounds.

“The program paid enrollees $30 per month,” Pine said. “They only kept $5 — the rest went into a savings account or to their family.”

The first CCC camp in Michigan was established in May 1933. By the end of that year, over 75 camps were opened. By the end of the program, 126 camps were in Michigan.

Pine showed a state map that pointed out where the camps were located, primarily in the northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula.

“This tells you where the trees needed to be replanted, where the fires needed to be fought and where the rivers needed to be restored,” she said.

Some statistics Pine shared about CCC work in Michigan are that 484 million trees were planted — twice as many as any other state — 7,000 miles of roads were added and 500 bridges were built, and 140,000 man-days were spent fighting forest fires.

She noted that, if folks have visited a Michigan state park, there’s a good chance it was built by the CCC.

In the presentation, Pine quoted Michael Rataj, who worked in Michigan in the CCC in the 1930s.

“I had nothing to do before the CCC. You couldn’t have any money to buy anything, so you stole or did without,” he is quoted as saying. “The soles of my shoes kept falling off and I taped them, but they did not hold and kept falling off.”

Of the CCC, Pine said that folks complained they didn’t want their sons to be turned into perfect little soldiers. In 1940 and 1941, just prior to America’s involvement in World War II, drills were added to the morning routine.

The CCC program ended in July 1942, and camps were disbanded or reused.

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