Long before Shenandoah's dedication, the park was being created by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), one of President Roosevelt's public works programs created within months of his taking office. In 1933, the first two CCC camps located in national parks were established at Skyland and Big Meadows. Congress took advantage of the future park's proximity to Washington, D.C., and used it as a demonstration of Roosevelt's Depression cures. In August 1933, the president took a highly publicized whirlwind tour through Shenandoah's camps to bolster public confidence in his "New Deal."
Between 1933 and 1942, 10 CCC camps were established within, or on leased land, adjacent to Shenandoah. At any one time, more than 1,000 boys and young men lived in these camps that were supervised by the Army. They worked on projects directed by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Public Roads. The earliest CCC activities involved building trails, fire roads and towers, log comfort stations, construction projects associated with the Skyline Drive and park picnic grounds.
The CCC was the most popular of President Roosevelt's "New Deal" programs, even winning the endorsement of Virginia's conservative U.S. senator Harry Flood Byrd Sr. (While Byrd was a fellow Democrat, he advocated a small federal government that did not spend ahead of means or interfere in state affairs.) Designed to alleviate the widespread unemployment caused by the Great Depression, the CCC recruited unmarried, unemployed young men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five to spend six months in camps doing conservation work, primarily in the nation's forests. They were paid $1 a day, most of which was sent to their parents in $25 monthly allotments. The War Department ran most of the camps on a military basis, providing supervision and discipline. Although some critics saw a fascist-like militarism in such circumstances, the CCC had the positive, although unintended consequence of preparing men for service in World War II (1939–1945). At its peak, the CCC employed half-a-million men in more than 2,500 camps, and 2.5 million men enlisted during its nine-year existence.
The first ever CCC camp, Camp Roosevelt, was set up at Luray in the George Washington National Forest in 1933. The first CCC camp in a national park was NP-1, established near Skyland in May 1933 (Timber Hollow Overlook area). The second camp was also in Shenandoah National Park, camp NP-2 at Big Meadows. In its nine years of work, the CCC spent $109 million in Virginia, the fifth-largest state expenditure in the country. The state ranked fourth in the number of camps (more than eighty, twelve of which were for black Virginians) and seventeenth in the total number of enrollees. The CCC employed 107,210 men statewide, 64,762 of whom were Virginia youth and 10,435 of whom were local camp officers and supervisors. The agency put most of its effort into controlling erosion and flooding and improving forest landscaping and wildlife conditions. CCC workers also labored on the federal projects of the Shenandoah National Park, the Skyline Drive, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
After the official establishment of the park on December 26, 1935, CCC activities were expanded to include the entire acreage. Houses and outbuildings of former residents were dismantled or burned, fences were removed, gardens and orchards were obliterated, and work areas were replanted, seeded or sodded. Many known 20th-century homesites in Shenandoah are invisible today due to the CCC's mandate to return the land to its "natural state."
The war and dwindling unemployment caused the termination of the CCC in 1942. The final Virginia report summarized its work: "In no State did the CCC make a greater or more lasting contribution to the well-being of its citizens than it did in Virginia."
April 17, 1933 - The first Civilian Conservation Corps work camp is established in Luray, Virginia.
June 15, 1936 - Virginia's state parks system launches when the six inaugural parks - Douthat, Fairy Stone, Hungry Mother, Seashore, Westmoreland, and Staunton River - open simultaneously. All of the parks are products of the workers employed by U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps.
1942 - The beginning of World War II along with dwindling unemployment cause the termination of of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Heinemann, Ronald L. Depression and New Deal in Virginia: The Enduring Dominion. Charlottesville: The University of Virginia Press, 1983.
Salmond, John A. The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933–1942: A New Deal Case Study. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1967.
Contributed by Ronald L. Heinemann, professor of history, Hampden-Sydney College.