The Boys of the CCC — the Civilian Conservation Corps

Hard work and labor gave us the popular attractions in the Badlands.

Yes, it was tax dollars at work. President Franklin Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

The Civilian Conservation Corps helped restore The Chateau De Mores, Medora, North Dakota

The Chateau De Mores, Medora, North Dakota was the beloved home of Antoine de Vallombrosa, the Marquis de Mores, and his wife, Medora.

The Great Depression and the Dirty 30s dust bowl era created the need for extreme measures.  For $1.00 a day, the “boys” in that military-like organization put pick and shovels to work. They got to keep $5.00 each month, and their families back home got $25.00 each month.

And today, we get the Chateau de Mores, the roads, trails, and shelters in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  

A second program, The National Resettlement Act produced the Little Missouri National Grasslands.

In May 1935, the Bismarck Tribune boasted the “Badlands Park Project Going Forward Rapidly.”  It explained North Dakota benefitted from the work by men (called boys at the time – after all, they were just out of high school).  It said, “One of the greatest playgrounds in the state is taking form – Theodore Roosevelt Regional Park.”

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) established 200 work camps in Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.  Three of the camps were in the Badlands, and each one had about 250 men between the ages of 18 and 23.

Roads, trails, picnic and campgrounds built by the Civilian Conservation Corps

They started the preservation of the Chateau d’Mores, digging underneath, placing beams to keep it from shifting.  One story in the Dickinson Press described the “boys” who came to the Civilian Conservation Corps were destitute and hungry.  They set to work stabilizing the Chateau, but when they worked underneath the building, they found a wine cellar of unopened wine bottles. By the time the 18-year-olds were done, two bottles survived.

The pick and shovel labor of the CCC carved park roads in the hills, leveled foot trails, built wayside resting spots, marked historical places of interest, built picnic shelters (with fireplaces, tables, and grills), and cleared areas for campgrounds.

east entrance building

When we started up the hill, we turned to get a shot of the East Entrance building.

Civilian Conservation Corps Men building east entrance from stone

East Entrance Station Construction
A boy leans on the stone wall while a CCC laborer works inside the East Entrance Station. Photo courtesy National Park Service

In fact, if you were to visit the south unit 50 years ago, you would have entered the park through an entrance built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The East Entrance still stands, and is a very easy hiking destination. Click here see it then and now.

The Civilian Conservation Corps built one of the most photographed structures in North Dakota — the Riverbend Overlook along the scenic drive in the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Watford City. See the Riverbend Overlook Then and Now.

Robin Reynolds invites you to learn how to turn Badlands clay into pottery.
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Their work detail set ambitious goals – unrealized — including building lodges and cabins in the two areas. It was hoped adding cabins and lodges would elevate the areas to be more like Yellowstone.

A Bismarck Tribune story in 1934 said the CCC work would lead to two “fine game reserves.” One was to be in the northern badlands, the other in the southern badlands near Medora.  The story said other national parks would be tapped to provide elk, buffalo, deer, antelope, bears, lynx and wildcats.

Enjoy the labor of the Civilian Conservation Corps

That was almost 15 years before the Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park was born.  And it was 45 years before President Carter gave the “playground” national park designation.

So, on Labor Day, it is fitting to visit the Riverbend Overlook at the north unit, the Chateau near Medora, and the trails in the south unit.  Those are what you call “fruits of labor.”

Make your Badlands visit official.  Wear a Beautiful Badlands Cap.

Frequently Asked Questions

When do the Badlands close?

The 150 miles of North Dakota Badlands never close — except in extreme blizzards. It’s ranch country, and ranchers never close. The National Park is open 12 months of the year, but when heavy snow impedes traffic, some of the scenic drive in either north or south units close.

Where are the North Dakota Badlands?

The impressive geological formation of the North Dakota Badlands start at the southern edge of the state near Marmarth and follow the Little Missouri River north to the point where it empties into the Missouri River between Killdeer and Mandaree.

What should I wear to be safe and comfortable in the Badlands?

Clothes are recommended, especially the kind that protects your body.  We recommend against hiking in shorts any time of the year in the Badlands – too many thorns and cacti, biting bugs and rocky surfaces.  Blue jeans are good.  In the winter, you will want an extra layer underneath because the wind will force its way through the jeans.  For a worthy explanation, click to read this helpful story.