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From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

To borrow a line from former state Rep. W.R. Chambers back in 1945, “It requires more than a cow pasture and an excited chamber of commerce to make a park go.”

Furthermore, as historian James Wright Steely documented in his detailed account of the history of the Texas state parks system, Parks for Texas, the will and hands of dedicated people played (and still play) a vital role in shaping the system we enjoy today. As Steely notes, arguably no hands were as instrumental in the early development of Texas’ state parks than those of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Created during the Great Depression, the CCC enrolled young men ages 18-25 in teams across the nation to implement conservation measures such as reseeding eroded fields and pastures and reforesting national parks and forests. Known as the “forest army” and the “soil soldiers,” these men were also tasked with helping to create and develop national and state parks, including approximately 30 state parks in Texas.

One of those places was Bastrop State Park. Like their counterparts across the state and the nation, the men of CCC companies 1805 and 1811 were undoubtedly a hardy and skilled bunch. Dispatched to the wilds of the “Lost Pines” region, they were charged with developing a new flagship state park at Bastrop.

The CCC men teamed up with local stonemasons and master carpenters to develop the park’s signature rugged design aesthetic, with buildings created from local materials such as red sandstone and hand-cut pine and cedar. Their handiwork is omnipresent throughout the park’s boundaries, from the point of entry to the cabins, refectory, overlook and other structures that help define the site’s distinctive character and feel for park visitors.

While their defining work has largely stood the test of time, the forest around it has not been so fortunate. Altered dramatically by the Labor Day fires of last year, the signature “Lost Pines” of Bastrop were scorched in the fire’s destructive path. To make matters worse, heavy rains (usually praised by this author) fell on the park’s exposed, barren hillsides, creating substantial erosion and damage to roads, trails, campsites and the forest soils themselves.

Our Bastrop park staff immediately went to work addressing the myriad rebuilding and restoration challenges the fire presented. Their efforts to reopen the park have been simply herculean, cleaning up debris, clearing and cutting down hazardous trees and limbs, restoring campsites and overseeing work to rebuild roads and other infrastructure.

Given the extent of the fire’s damage and the limits of staff capacity, our parks team called in a modern-day version of the former “soil soldiers” of the CCC to aid in the recovery. We found them in the talented young men and women of the American YouthWorks Environmental Corps. This exemplary nonprofit conservation program focuses on job creation and service programs designed to help build and restore the natural environment.

American YouthWorks has been an indispensible partner and a natural fit at Bastrop State Park. The team members have rebuilt trails and bridges, installed erosion-control features, restored habitat for the imperiled Houston toad, cut down dangerous trees and limbs that posed safety hazards for visitors and engaged in a multitude of difficult but necessary tasks needed to put the park back on solid footing. In short, they have undoubtedly made their predecessors from the old CCC companies 1805 and 1811 mighty proud. As we celebrate 75 years of serving visitors and stewarding Bastrop State Park, I hope you’ll come out and see the fruits of all the labors of those who walked and worked in those woods before you.

Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.

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