The U.S. Forest Service also played an instrumental role in Montana Civilian Conservation Corps projects. In Missoula, students from the University of Montana's School of Forestry supervised CCC members. Missoula also served as the headquarters of U.S. Forest Service Region One. The Forest Service collaborated with Fort Missoula to determine the most pressing threats to natural resources and campsites and develop projects to address these issues.
The enrollees who came to Fort Missoula were a diverse group. In total, 40,000 CCC members passed through the Fort during the Corps’ existence. Twenty-five thousand of these enrollees were Montana residents. Others came from a wide range of places including Kentucky, New Jersey, and Wyoming. Enrollees had struggled to find available jobs. Although Montana was home to a number of industries, like mining and timber, they failed to provide jobs during the Depression. Many Montana enrollees came from cities like Butte that had once been economic hubs. The Dust Bowl also wrecked Montana’s agricultural production in the eastern part of the state. The Montana CCC projects addressed these economic issues in two ways. First, the Corps provided employment, paying men $30 per month. Secondly, the program contributed to Montana’s economic revitalization. Projects such as work on logging roads aimed to make Montana’s natural resources accessible for sale in the commercial market.
Fort Missoula offered a wide range of activities available to Corps members. During the day, they received limited training to prepare them for work on projects like clearing debris. Plays, variety shows, and boxing matches served as evening entertainment. Members also had access to a library and art supplies. Local high schools frequently collaborated with the CCC. High school students put on performances for enrollees, and schools invited the Corps to use their gyms for sports like basketball. Visiting Missoula’s downtown and driving around the city were popular activities for enrollees.
The Fort offered education to enrollees on a voluntary basis. In 1936, Fort Missoula asked for donations of unwanted books and textbooks from Montana schools. Each camp had an educational advisor. In addition to these advisors, teachers from the Work Progress Administration and local schools assisted with courses. Enrollees could select from a number of different classes. Many enrollees were illiterate or had incomplete schooling; these men could take elementary classes to catch up on the basics. Men with a stronger educational background took high school level courses, often for credit. Colleges collaborated with the CCC to offer instruction via mail correspondence. There were also classes to learn skills like radio operation, or a drafting course offered by the Forest Service.
CCC troops dispatched from Fort Missoula worked on a huge range of projects. Camp 591 built the Boy Scout Camp at Seeley Lake. Fort Missoula troops also constructed a road near St. Regis. In addition to these large projects, the CCC also worked on many smaller ones throughout the state: clearing brush to prevent forest fires, working on campsites, putting up telephone lines, etc. Fort Missoula CCC had a special link to Glacier National Park. They built facilities like barns and updated campsites. They also improved recreation in the park with new bridges and worked on projects to sustain the fish population. The CCC also was instrumental in preventing the spread of forest fires. Clearing debris was an annual occurrence. These efforts suppressed a huge fire in 1935. Fire trails, new lookout towers, and phone lines established by the CCC prepared Glacier National Park to ward off future fires.
Many camps on national forest lands closed during the winter. Harsh Montana winters made it difficult to keep camps habitable through the year. It was expensive to keep buildings adequately heated, and the cold wreaked havoc on roads and water lines. Some Montana CCC companies traveled to other western states, like California and Utah, for the winter months. Many troops from outside Montana returned to their home states for the winter. Towards the end of the 1930s, a growing number of men left the CCC to join the regular workforce. CCC operations stopped at Fort Missoula in 1941. The United States’ entry into World War II made it necessary for the Army to focus on the war effort. Nationally, the Civilian Conservation Corps program ended in 1942.
Some of the facilities used by the Fort Missoula Civilian Conservation Corps are preserved as part of the Rocky Mountain Military Museum (RMMM) and the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula (HMFM). The HMFM provides tours, including a tour focusing on the CCC, with advance notice. The RMMM also gives tours on a limited basis. The website “The Living New Deal” offers a searchable listing of existing CCC projects like the Lewis & Clark Caverns. Additional information about projects can be found on the websites of Montana's state and national parks.