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70 Years Old and Still Giving

By Mary-Love Bigony

The Civilian Conservation Corps has graced Texas state parks with an enduring legacy.

It seems improbable that a nationwide conservation movement would arise from the darkest days of the Great Depression. But that’s what happened in 1933. “It is essential to our recovery program that measures immediately be enacted aimed at unemployment relief,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in a message to Congress on March 21 of that year.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was established on April 5, 1933, by Executive Order 6101. “It will conserve our precious natural resources,” the president had told Congress on March 21. “It will pay dividends to the present and future generations. It will make improvements in national and state domains which have been largely forgotten in the past few years of industrial development.” By July 1, 1933, 274,000 men had joined the CCC and eventually, CCC camps existed in every state as well as Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. By the time the program ended in 1942, CCC workers in Texas had helped develop 56 parks, including 31 state parks.

On March 31, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will recognize the 70th anniversary of the Civilian Conservation Corps at one of the most notable CCC parks in Texas, Bastrop State Park. “Anyone who was in the CCC and worked on Texas soil is invited to the celebration, as well as members of the public who wish to join us in thanking the CCC,” says Janelle Taylor of TPWD.

Bastrop State Park, site of the March 31 event, is an excellent showcase for the enduring craftsmanship of the CCC workers. They built the large refectory of native stone and included touches such as a massive beamed ceiling and a relief sculpture above the rustic fireplace showing pioneers and covered wagons. Bastrop’s popular cabins also are the work of the CCC.

Other well-loved state parks benefited from the CCC workers’ skills. At Caddo Lake State Park, one of the first sites chosen for CCC development, workers built trails, firebreaks and lookout towers and a concession building reminiscent of pioneer log construction. At Daingerfield State Park, they built an earthen dam to create the park’s 80-acre lake, a winding road through the East Texas scenery, a peninsula that juts into the lake, a landing pier and picnic area. At Goliad State Park, CCC workers reconstructed an 18th-century Spanish mission, Mission Espíritu Santo.

The popular Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park was a product of the CCC. Workers built the 16-room adobe lodge modeled after the pueblos of New Mexico, as well as Southwestern-style, hand-carved furniture for the guest rooms and lobby. Since then, the lodge has been expanded to 39 rooms. Visitors still enjoy the five-mile scenic road that CCC workers carved in switchbacks up to the top of Davis Mountain.

“More important … than the material gains will be the moral and spiritual value of such work,” Roosevelt said in 1933. “The overwhelming majority of unemployed Americans, who are now walking the streets and receiving private or public relief, would infinitely prefer to work. We can take a vast army of these unemployed out into healthful surroundings.” Those CCC veterans are in their 80s and 90s now, and their legacy endures — and will continue to do so — in parks across the state.

Organizers urge anyone planning to attend the March 31 reunion to make a reservation. To make a reservation, or for more information, call Janelle Taylor at (512) 389-4665 or e-mail her at janelle.taylor@tpwd.state.tx.us.

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