1933 : Camp Raco, Michigan’s First Civilian Conservation Corps Facility

May 2, 2022 all-day

Camp Raco image

On this day, two hundred young men from Detroit arrive at an isolated spot in Chippewa County near Sault Ste. Marie and set up Camp Raco — Michigan’s first Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) facility. Within months, dozens of similar camps opened across northern Michigan. One of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s most popular New Deal relief programs, the CCC was a massive conservation program that employed tens of thousands of young men all across the nation. The CCC revitalized Michigan’s state park system, established Isle Royale National Park and built campgrounds in Michigan’s national forests. All benefited the state as tourism became one of its main economic resources. Michigan enrollees also sent home $20 million of their monthly salaries and acquired invaluable training that made their transition to military service in World War II easier. When the program ended in 1942, more than 100,000 Michigan men had served in the CCC. Their accomplishments included: planting more than 484 million seedlings (more than twice the number in any other state), expending 140,000 man-days in fighting forest fires, placing 150 million fish in rivers and lakes, and constructing 7,000 miles of truck trails, 504 buildings and 222 bridges.

After the CCC camp closed, the facilities were used during World War II as a German prisoner of war camp. The camp held approximately 267 German POWs.

Sources :

Roger L. Rosentreter, “Roosevelt’s Tree Army: Michigan’s Civilian Conservation Corps” courtesy of the  ichigan Department of Natural Resources.  “Roosevelt’s Tree Army” originally appeared in the May/June 1986 issue of Michigan History Magazine and was reprinted as one of a series of “Michigan Time Capsules” in 1986. It is now out-of-print.

Also see Patricia Zacharias, “The Civilian Conservation Corps”, Detroit News, January 22, 1997.

GEO 333 : Geography of Michigan and the Great Lakes Region at Michigan State University by Dr. Randall J. Schaetzl instructor.

For a novel set at Camp Raco, see Big shoulders / William Jamerson. Escanaba, Mich. : Pine Stump Publishing, c2007. Jamerson’s novel follows a year in the life of a seventeen-year-old youth from Detroit who enlists in the CCC in 1937. The enrollee joins two hundred other young men at Camp Raco, a work camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula run by army officers. It is a coming-of-age story of an angry teenager who faces the rigors of hard work, learning to get along with a difficult sergeant and coping with a bully.

Also see Jeff Karoub, “Rare photos reveal, recognize Michigan black work camps during Depression“, Detroit Free Press, April 7, 2018.  The Bentley Historical Library owns pictures of black Civilian Conservation Corps camps in Michigan and elsewhere during the Great Depression. The photos are the only known images of the state’s segregated, all-black camps.  CCC camps initially were integrated, according to the university, but became segregated by 1935 amid community protests. Out of Michigan’s roughly 150 camps, some 16 were designated for black men. Black membership was capped at 10 percent of the overall corps, which numbered around 3 million over the course of the program.

In a photo provided by the Bentley Historical Library,

In a photo provided by the Bentley Historical Library, James “Big Jim” Richardson, left, is photographed at Free Soil Camp in 1936 in Michigan. (Photo: Bentley Historical Library via Associated Press).  The Michigan History Center says the state’s black camps helped build a ski area and contributed to efforts to plant millions of trees, fight forest fires, construct bridges and buildings, and establish public campgrounds.

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