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Civilian Conservation Corps camp named "Lightning Creek" opens in the Black Hills | South Dakota History

Men and Truck at CCC Camp Lightning Creek
South Dakota CCC
Men and Truck at CCC Camp Lightning Creek

On October 17, 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps camp named "Lightning Creek" opened in the Black Hills near Jewel Cave. Like many of the CCC Camps, work included building dams and thinning forested areas.

The "Lightning Camp" was located nine miles west of Custer, or about four miles east of Jewel Cave National Monument.

The camp was organized by the U.S. Veterans Bureau at Fort Lincoln near Bismarck, ND, and was composed of North Dakota WWI veterans. After arrival at Camp Lightning Creek, the veterans were put to work thinning the forest of its overgrowth of trees. Though the work was different, the schedule was about the same as at Fort Lincoln. Their work concentrated in a large area of the Harney National Forest. Along with forest thinning, the workers were assigned fire construction, spring improvement, and building cattle guards, drift fences, and dams.

In May 1934, a side camp of 30 men was established at the Summit ranger station now known as Black Elk Peak. The work conducted at this side camp was also thinning, spring development, fire trails, fire-fighting, insect control, and the construction of telephone lines, roads, cattle guards, drift fences, dams, and sheep runs.

Camp Lightning was used as a CCC camp from October 1933, until July 1942.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps in March 1933. It was a public work relief program that operated until the early months of World War II. It employed unmarried men from relief families as part of the New Deal. It was originally for young men ages 18 to 23 but was expanded to ages 17 to 28. The goal of the CCC was two-fold — the conservation of our natural resources and the salvage of our young men. More than 30,000 men contributed to projects in South Dakota and were able to help support their families back home.

Today, you can visit the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum of South Dakota. It is located on the upper floor of the Hill City Visitor Information Center. The museum is funded entirely by donations. The displays, materials, annual open house, and website are provided and maintained by local volunteers.

Production assistance for This Day in South Dakota History comes from Brad Tennant, Ph.D., professor of history at Presentation College.