The work: plain, hard toil moving rocks and soil.
The wages: 30 bucks a month.
The results: a lasting legacy of buildings, roads, recreational sites and vital conservation projects that have enhanced our public lands and stood the test of time for more than 75 years.
Such is the uniquely American, true-grit saga of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Its work will be commemorated at three upcoming events in Southern Arizona.
The corps, a cornerstone of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, was designed to put jobless young men back to work in the depths of the Great Depression - and shore up the nation's natural resources in the bargain.
CCC-built structures, still in use today, ring the Tucson area - from Sabino Canyon and Saguaro National Park to Colossal Cave and Tucson Mountain Park.
"CCC workers built things that were needed, and they built them to last," said Philip Brown, a seasonal ranger at Saguaro National Park and an expert on the corps.
"It's been said that they advanced the agendas of the National Park Service and Forest Service by 50 years," Brown said. "Things that would have taken 50 years to do, they did in the CCC's nine-year period" from 1933 to 1942.
He said Saguaro Park "will honor the work of the CCC in Arizona and around the country" at the third annual Civilian Conservation Corps Recognition Day on March 31.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Colossal Cave Mountain Park also will host CCC events in the coming weeks.
LIFE IN THE CCC
It was a young man's game.
"The CCC was designed specifically to provide employment for unmarried young men between the ages of about 17 and 24," Brown said. "Their work was to renew some of the nation's resources."
That work entailed everything from construction of roads, bridges and buildings to fighting fires and conserving forest lands.
About 3.4 million young men served nationwide, Brown said. "Six months was an enrollment period, but some stayed two years or more."
Workers lived in camps operated by the Army, including ones at the sites of present-day Saguaro Park and Colossal Cave Park.
"They worked eight hours a day, five days a week," Brown said. "Pay for a junior enrollee was $30 a month, and $25 of that was sent home to the families. It sounds like nothing today, but in 1933 that money could buy quite a bit. It made a big difference to the families."
CCC SITES NEARBY
• Colossal Cave
Corps members worked at the site of Colossal Cave Mountain Park from 1934 to 1937.
Martie Maierhauser, director of the park, said CCC crews built a hewn-limestone building that still serves as the cave headquarters, another limestone building that is now used for offices, and numerous facilities inside the cave.
"They did all the flagstone walkways in and outside the cave," Maierhauser said. "They enlarged the opening, opened passageways and put in bridges, handrails and electrical wiring. It's all pretty much unchanged today."
She said the park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places - "and that's in large part due to the work of the CCC."
"It was a major contribution," Maierhauser said. "I personally think that the work at Colossal Cave is the finest work they did in the region."
• Saguaro National Park
Workers - based at a site known as Camp Pima a few miles from the present day visitor center at Saguaro Park West - built an enduring array of structures at what then was known as Tucson Mountain Park.
Among CCC structures still standing are restrooms, ramadas, fireplaces and tables at the Sus, Mam-A-Gah, Ez-Kim-In-Zin, Cam-Boh and Signal Hill sites at Saguaro Park West.
"There has been repair work as needed, but basically you're looking at the original structures," said Brown, the seasonal park ranger and CCC expert. "They also built or improved roads and built trails at what are now Saguaro Park and Tucson Mountain Park."
Other remaining CCC structures in the area include buildings at the entrance to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
• Sabino Canyon
The Lowell Ranger Station and the Rattlesnake Picnic Area in Sabino Canyon northeast of Tucson are among the many CCC constructions in the Coronado National Forest.
"The grills and picnic tables are still at the picnic area," said Kathy Makansi, archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service. "Those tables are cool structures - river rock and mortar bases with concrete tops."
Makansi said roads and bridges in the canyon date to the Depression era but were built mainly by work groups other than the CCC.
Other corps projects on forest lands included construction of buildings at some sites and extensive erosion-control work.
KNOW A CCC WORKER?
Rangers at Saguaro National Park are seeking to contact people who served in the Civilian Conservation Corps or their family members.
Send an email to Philip Brown, seasonal ranger, at Philip_Brown@nps.gov or call the park at 733-5158.
IF YOU GO
The public is welcome at these CCC-related events.
Sanchez Camp tour
A volunteer cleanup project and tour of the Civilian Conservation Corps' Sanchez Camp near Safford will take place Saturday.
To take part, meet at 7 a.m. at the Bureau of Land Management Safford field office. It's at 711 14th Ave. in Safford.
Bring a hat, sunscreen, water, sack lunch and walking shoes. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended.
For information or to sign up, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-928-348-4466.
CCC Recognition Day
Talks by historians and authors, movies and tours of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp site are some of the events planned for a March 31 CCC Recognition Day at Saguaro National Park West.
Events and activities will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the park visitor center, 2700 N. Kinney Road. Admission to the park's west district will be free for the day.
Two or more men who served in the CCC may be on hand at some of the events.
Photos, camp newspapers and books will be on display.
For information, call 733-5158.
CCC Museum Open House
An open house at the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum at Colossal Cave Mountain Park will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 7.
The event marks the 75th anniversary of the completion of CCC work at the park, 16721 E. Old Spanish Trail.
A $5 per vehicle admission fee to the park will be in effect.
Call 647-7275 for information.
Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at email@example.com or at 573-4192.