The CCC Parks
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If You Build It, They Will Come

Story and photos
by Kathleen Walls

In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt faced with the worst depression in American history needed to kick start the economy. Part of his New Deal was an organization designed to employ young men. He called it the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and it did much more than give millions of young men jobs on environmental projects. As travelers, we owe a lot to an organization that has been somewhat forgotten over the years. The CCC helped to build 711 new state parks across the country and two national parks were built almost entirely by CCC labor: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddling the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, and the Big Bend National Park in Texas. The CCC earned the nickname, "Roosevelt's Tree Army." These parks continue to provide a natural attraction and much of the buildings these young men built are still in use at parks across the country today.

I've visited many of these parks and want to thank these passionate young men who although not skilled carpenters and without the tools we have today built parks that have far outlasted the average chain restaurant buildings that seem to need to be torn down and rebuilt every ten or so years. Makes me wonder when pride in work was replaced with the "hurry up and throw it up as cheaply as possible to earn the most money" standard we see now.

 Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Roosevelt monument

This is my all-time favorite national park. I've visited it many times, sometimes from Townsend, and often from Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. In 1940, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, he did it at one of the CCC works, the two-tiered stone Rockefeller Monument at Newfound Gap. The CCC built the stone guard rails and bridges you drive today throughout the park. They built fish rearing ponds for a trout hatchery near Chimneys Picnic Area and so much more.

grist mill at cades cove

One of my favorite places in this park is Cades Cove. It was built by early settlers and tells the story of these rugged folks that made a home in these mountains long ago. The CCC did work on the historic buildings and their work makes it possible for us to drive good roads and visit this treasure. There's a marker honoring the CCC along Cades Cove Loop Road near the Missionary Baptist Church. In part it reads "If you seek their monument, look about you."

Big Bend National Park

For those not familiar with it, Big Bend is in the far corner of West Texas, where the Rio Grande turns. According to Barry Scobee, who wrote about it on December 27, 1935 in Alpine Avalanche, the local newspaper in Alpine, Texas, it is "The most representative example of the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem in the United States."

Great Kiskadee.

I've visited the park briefly from McAllen, a fantastic small town perched on the US/Mexico border. In 1934, Big Bend was in name a state park, but it was mostly virgin land that was accessed by a four-hour drive up a dirt road. Today, thanks to the CCC, it's not only a National Park, but a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a Globally Important Bird Area. The over 450 bird species that are found there draw birders from all over. Even I spotted what I was told was a Great Kiskadee.

Today, the CCC projects still are in the park, including the Green Gulch Road, Chisos Mountain Road, Lost Mine Trail, several other trails, buildings, and their water system. They built four stone and adobe cottages which are still in use.

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Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park

sherman fox squirrill

The CCC park closest to me here in Clay County, Florida, is Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park. It's one of Florida's first state parks, built by the CCC in the 1930s on a 2,000-acre site. What was once a narrow-gauge railroad owned by Dowling and Burlington transporting logs between Green Cove Springs and Melrose is a tram trail where you might spot anything from rare Sherman's fox squirrels, gopher tortoises, foxes, various snakes, and birds including red-cockaded woodpeckers, hawks, songbirds, and even bald eagles.

If you really want to get your heart pumping, hike down the long staircase leading you to one of Florida's few ravines. Or take the Ridge Trail to the old mill site. Stop by the CCC buildings: water tower, cabins, and old bathhouse (still in use) by Little Lake Johnson Beach.

 ccc built bath house at gold Head park

The CCC cabins are near the lake and charming. The campground accommodates everything from big RVs needing full hookups to primitive camping. It's a less crowded park that is less than an hour's drive from either St. Augustine or Jacksonville.

Wall Doxey State Park

lodge at wall doxey

Wall Doxey State Park in Mississippi was my camping spot of choice a few months ago when I visited Little Rock and later Memphis. It was the eighth park in Mississippi created by the CCC. The CCC began working on it on June 25, 1935, and opened it to the public in 1938. The park was then named Spring Lake State Park, but was renamed in 1956 after US Congressman Wall Doxey. A helpful employee showed me the lovely CCC built lodge and told me a bit of the park's history.

rv atwll doxey sp

The camping sites are well spaced, have hookups and spotless restrooms. There are picnic tables, a picnic pavilion, a playground, and a disc golf course. There's a 60-acre, spring-fed lake and four of the original CCC cabins.

fisherman tries his luck at Wall doxey's lake

Wall Doxey is just seven miles from Holly Springs, Mississippi which is filled with historic antebellum homes.


Torreya State Park

At Torreya State Park, in Bristol, Florida, one of the CCC's greatest feats was moving the Gregory House, an antebellum plantation house, into the park. They dismantled the magnificent home built across the Apalachicola River and relocated and reconstructed it in the park on the high bluff. It's furnished as it might have been in the 1840s when it was the plantation home of Jason Gregory and his family.

I walked behind the house to a rather rugged trail here leading to a Civil War site, Hammock Landing Battery, where Confederated places some cannon to protect the Apalachicola River.

The park is named for the rare Torreya Tree, which only grows in this area. There are a few near the Gregory House.

I camped there several months ago in a spacious spot with a beautiful overlook of the woods and river. The site had electric, water, a picnic table, grill, and fire ring. Best of all, I was just next door to the restroom. It was clean and had hot showers. If you want more conveniences, the park has a cracker cabin or a yurt.

O'Leno State Park

O'Leno State Park in Columbia County, Florida near Lake City, home to the historic Blanche Hotel. It's one of Florida's very first state parks, begun in 1935, at what was the site of the mid-1800's town of Keno. The CCC has preserved much of the old town. There are remnants of the town's grist mill, the recreation hall, and some old log buildings. One of their amazing feats is O'Leno's suspension bridge across the Santa Fe River. (At this time, it is temporarily closed to walking.) You can swim or launch a kayak in the river.

The Santa Fe River is a geological wonder. Follow the 1.5-mile River Trail to the River Sink. This is where the entire Santa Fe River descends int the earth and flows underground for 3 miles before resurfacing at neighboring River Rise Preserve State Park.

You don't want to miss their Nature Center explaining the abundant wildlife found in the park. In front, there are two pens where a family of turtles live.

There are two campgrounds. Dogwood Campground is the first you pass on entering, but Magnolia Campground is closest to the river and the CCC buildings, plus, it has the most level sites.

With the work the CCC did here, it's only fitting that there's a statue and museum about them. 

Highlands Hammock State Park

Highlands Hammock State Park is the first of eight original parks built by the CCC in Florida. It has a CCC Museum and statue. They have an annual Civilian Conservation Corps Festival each Feb. Many of the trails, pavilions, bathhouses, and other structures the CCC built are still in use.

Wildlife florishes here. You may even see the rare Florida Scrub Jay.

Vogel State Park

Vogel State Park in Blairsville is the second oldest state park in Georgia. The CCC built the park's infrastructure in 1933. The park has sites for campers ranging from tents to large RVs. some of Vogel cabins are the original ones built by the CCC. They built a dam on Wolf Creek to creating the 22-acre Lake Trahlyta. It's a popular place for swimming, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. The park has a small amphitheater by the lake for concerts. There is a small CCC museum in the park.

What is now Lake Trahlyta was the site of Georgia's most renowned poet, Byron Herbert Reece's, birthplace.

Vogel Park sits at the base of Blood Mountain, Georgia's second highest peak. The Appalachian Trail crosses the mountain at a place called Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap Mountain Crossings, now an outfitter/gift shop and hostel, was rebuilt in the 1930s from an old logging structure as an inn and dining hall for workers building Vogel State Park. By the 1980s, the building was on the verge of demolition. Instead of tearing it down, the owners renovated it as Mountain Crossings, also called Walasi-Yi Interpretive Center. It's a stop for hikers on the Appalachian Trail. This is the only place where the trail crosses through the building. A tradition is for hikers who have completed the trail return and throw their hiking boots over a tree out front.

Blairsville is less than a two-hour drive from Atlanta.

FD Roosevelt State Park  

Pine Mountain, Georgia is home to F. D. Roosevelt State Park, recognizing that this area was President Roosevelt's favorite retreat. Without President Roosevelt, the CCC and these parks would not exist, so it's only fitting that there should be a state park honoring him.

It's Georgia's largest state park with over 40 miles of trails, including the popular 23-mile Pine Mountain Trail. The CCC built the cottages and the Liberty Bell swimming pool fed by cool springs. I camped there many years ago when my little dog was alive. He found a friendly goat to play with.

Little White House State Historic Site

Before the CCC and Roosevelt's presidency, he came to the nearby town of Warm Springs for relief from suffering from pain caused by polio, which had crippled him. He came to swim in the healing waters of the warm springs. He built a modest cottage as a getaway form political pressure when he was governor of Georgia in 1924. Today, Roosevelt's Little White House State Historic Site invites visitors to see his home, a museum and the pools that first drew him here. The museum showcases polio treatments and iron lungs.

These and so many other places we visit for recreation and relaxation, we owe to these young men of CCC. Go visit these and check out more on your own.

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