Building South Mountain

The CCC and the Landscape of the New Deal

In an effort to ease economic issues during the Great Depression, the federal government created the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) through the New Deal. The CCC was dedicated to employing young men for public improvement projects, such as constructing roads and public parks. Some of these projects were right constructed right here in Arizona.

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 by 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.


Heartache in the Great Depression<br />
Heartache in the Great Depression
A family leaving Phoenix for San Diego due to the severe economic downturn during the early 1930s. Source: LC-DIG-fsa-8b33132; Library of Congress Creator: Dorothea Lange Date: 1939
Young Men At Work
Young Men At Work A group of CCC workers in the Kaibab National Forest making money to support their families in the 1930s. Source: Williams News: Gateway to the Grand Canyon Date: 1930
Colossal Cave CCC Camp
Colossal Cave CCC Camp This camp near Vail, AZ is representative of the typical CCC camp. Throughout the U.S., more than 2600 camps were in operation between 1933 and 1940. Source: 3P-0100; Arizona Memory Project Date: 1935
Carl Hayden & Franklin D. Roosevelt
Carl Hayden & Franklin D. Roosevelt Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt meeting with Senator Hayden and other officials during the Great Depression at Greenway Ranch, Williams, Arizona. Roosevelt is accompanied by four U.S. Senators: Carl Hayden, Key Pittman, Thomas J. Walsh, and John S. Cohen, as well as C.C. Pettijohn of New York, Judge Robert Marx of Ohio, J. Bruce Kremer of Montana, Breckinridge Long of Missouri, and W.F. Githens of New York. Source: United States National Archive Date: 1932
"Great Oaks From Little Acorns"
"Great Oaks From Little Acorns" The importance of working for the CCC was reflected in recruitment posters such as this one. Source: GLC06196.262; The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Date: 1938
Young Cadets of the CCC
Young Cadets of the CCC Young individuals getting ready to begin work in Safford, Arizona after training for the Civilian Conservation Corps. Source: 96-4315.jpg; Arizona Memory Project Date: 1940
A Letter from Senator Hayden
A Letter from Senator Hayden The letter from Carl Hayden, the Assistant Director of Conservation Work, to the Governor of Arizona. The message said that the state could not afford to employ 500,000 workers for the Civilian Conservation Corps. Source: RG001_SG011_B007_F0009_I014_letter.pdf; Arizona Memory Project Creator: Carl Hayden Date: 1936


10919 S Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85042


Tyler Cervenka, “Building South Mountain,” Salt River Stories, accessed July 21, 2024,