Amid the economic crisis of the Great Depression, 200 young, unmarried men ages 18 to 25 labored long days to build access roads, fire lookouts, and other structures on some of Whatcom County’s most prized public lands. Eighty-five years later, the young men’s work is being recognized with a statue at the Glacier Public Service Center, a visitor center now housed in a building constructed by the young men off Mount Baker Highway.
These men arrived in the summer of 1933 as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Known as the CCC, the federal relief work program at its height employed nearly 300,000 young men nationwide.
The CCC worker statue will be dedicated at the center at 1 p.m. June 16 to honor the men’s work. The event is free and open to the public. The program will feature words from U.S. Forest Service representatives and small snacks. Boosters hope it will help educate visitors of the importance of the CCC and its workers nationwide. Other local CCC projects included developing Douglas Fir and Silver Fir campgrounds and building the Austin Pass Warming Hut.
The statue design features a life-size CCC member with his shirt off, hands full of tools, and a 1930s-style hat. The statue was designed by the Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the recognition of CCC work throughout the country. The same statue stands at the 68 CCC monument sites across the country and is paid for by the members and supporters of the legacy group.
The CCC emerged during a bleak time for the U.S. economy. Twenty five percent of men ages 16 to 30 were out of work. In March 1933 President Roosevelt approved the Emergency Conservation Work Act to put young men to work to as part of his strategy to tackle the Great Depression. The act established the CCC, a work program designed to offer employment to young men, while improving land across the country. Companies were assigned projects by the U.S. Forest Service.
Those men were paid $5 a month directly and their families received an additional $25 a month (in today’s dollars, $100 and nearly $475, respectively).
Roosevelt believed that development of rural areas was essential to their economic prosperity. Other notable Washington state CCC projects included much of the Mount Rainier National Park, Deception Pass State Park, and countless soil reclamation projects in eastern Washington.
Roosevelt foresaw that those visitors would then spend money at nearby businesses, thereby stimulating the local economy, according to author and Whatcom County historian Janet Oakley. She and North Fork historian Mike Impero are leading the project. “I think the statue will bring more people out to Glacier. We are fulfilling FDR’s idea,” she said.
While the CCC no longer exists, the federal Youth Conservation Corps was created during the 1970s and follows a similar model to its predecessor. Today, it offers volunteer, internship, and job opportunities to young people interested in natural resource management, recreation, and land use policy.