Building South Mountain

The CCC and the Landscape of the New Deal

The Great Depression had a profound impact on the United States as well as greater Phoenix. In an effort to confront the economic and social costs of the Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt argued for a New Deal in which the federal government sought to put Americans back to work through building infrastructure and other vitally-needed public projects. Among the program he created was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The immensely popular program created jobs as recruits built facilities, roads, and other structures in hundreds of parks nationwide. This included both state and National Parks. In Phoenix, the CCC constructed buildings, performed landscaping, and excavated rocks at South Mountain, leaving a visible imprint of the New Deal in the landscape.

Established in 1933 the CCC sought to put Americans back to work and to improve the health and morale of poor young men through taking them out to the countryside to do work. Over its nine years of existence, the CCC employed more than 3 million men, approximately 5 percent of the total U.S. male population. Recruits were 17 to 24 years old; they earned 30 dollars a month and served for 6 month intervals. Corps' members worked for a maximum of two years. Young men earned a decent paycheck, learned valuable life lessons, and reshaped the American landscape in the process. In particular, the CCC made large contributions to National Parks.

In Phoenix, the CCC played a significant role in building the infrastructure in South Mountain Park, which is located along the city's southern boundary. South Mountain Park was established in 1924, when the City of Phoenix purchased an area known as the Salt River Mountains. The city’s primary goal in setting aside the 14,500 acre parcel was to save the land from private development.

From 1933 through 1940, more than 4,000 men worked at two camps in the park. The camps generated about $5,000 in money for the local economy, as most of the materials and supplies were purchased locally. Also, most of the young recruits spent their $5 allowance in the city. The CCC made the park accessible to Phoenicians; they built some 40 miles of hiking and horse trails, 26 miles of road, scores of fire pits, and more than 30 buildings, ramadas, and other features--including a museum building in 1934. Like the Park's other buildings, the building was designed collaboratively by the National Park Service and the City Parks Supervisor. The South Mountain Park entry complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014, some 70 years after it was built.

Former enrollees of the CCC formed a national alumni organization in 1977. In 1981, an Arizona chapter was established, which went on to dedicate three monuments to their efforts in Arizona. Statues were erected at Colossal Cave Mountain Park in 2008 and in South Mountain Park in 2009. The chapter also placed a granite monument with a plaque to the CCC's efforts in Wesley Bolin Plaza in 1990.

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10919 S Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85042