SNYDER: On Labor Day weekend, we should recall hard work of Roosevelt's Tree Army, the CCC


Sometimes it's easy to take the things this country has to offer for granted.

With all of the election hype focusing on what is wrong with our nation and what must be done to fix it, folks are forgetting just how great this country really is.

This country offers features you'll not find anywhere else on the planet. We have the freedom to go, say and do whatever we want. We get to pick our leaders. We have an incredible amount of public land that will remain wild and open long after you and I are gone.

All of this freedom came through great sacrifice and hard work. With Labor Day upon us, let's talk about some of that hard work.

We all know the political fighting it took to get this nation started. What many of us don't know is what it took to get our wild lands and open spaces as inviting and accessible as they are today.

I have discussed Theodore Roosevelt in this column before. He was a pioneer when it came to land preservation and conservation. This time I want to tell you about the actions of his fifth cousin, one of the most popular presidents in the nation's history, Franklin Roosevelt (most know him as FDR).

In the throws of an unimaginably oppressive economic depression, FDR understood the difficulty of getting the nation moving forward again. With an unemployment rate approaching 25 percent, the only way the nation was going to get back on track was if it got back to work.

That is why FDR sent more than 3 1/2 million young men into the woods. By creating the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), Roosevelt not only helped the nation get back on its feet, he also gave the nation a gift that will be remembered for centuries.

The CCC was created in 1933 as part of Roosevelt's New Deal. The group was charged with improving the nation's natural environment. The country is still benefiting from its work.

CCC workers, mostly between the age of 17 and 25, were charged with building dams, controlling soil erosion, creating trails and fire roads, and even raising power lines. Because these men planted more than five billion trees across the nation, they were nicknamed Roosevelt's Tree Army.

With more than 4,000 camps spread across the nation, even today, it's hard to drive more than a few miles in any direction and not be able to see some of their work. Here in Pennsylvania, there were more than 113 camps and more than 190,000 young men toiled in our woods.

Walk through any of our state parks, forests or game lands, and you'll see the fruits of their labor. Chances are, you've walked on one of the trails they cut and you've likely enjoyed a picnic under a shelter they raised. In all, the men of the CCC did more than $8 billion worth of labor in the Commonwealth. And they all did it for just $1 per day.

With so much going on within our country, it's easy to lose sight of the foundation America was built upon. But the holiday that's upon us is symbolic of much more than late-summer picnics and going back to school. It's important to remember this country wouldn't be the great land it is today without the unceasing labor of countless men and women before us.

— Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at