South Carolina State Parks: A Look Back at the Civilian Conservation Corps
The History and Importance of the CCC to South Carolina State Parks
The time period from the late 1920s into the 1940s often is remembered for our nation’s difficulties, including the Great Depression and World War II. What people might not remember, or even have knowledge of, is the fascinating and forward-thinking program that President Franklin D. Roosevelt established in 1933: the Civilian Conservation Corps. As part of the New Deal, the CCC not only helped to bring back hope and prosperity to Americans, but it helped build some of our most beloved parks.
With the Great Depression creating a wave of unemployment, Roosevelt was forced to act quickly and effectively at the start of his presidency in 1933. Lowering the unemployment rate from a staggeringly high of 25 percent was a top priority. Roosevelt had been an advocate of conservation for many years before his inauguration, so the establishment of the multifaceted Civilian Conservation Corps was a natural move forward. The CCC housed, fed, educated and provided a stable income for young men from 1933 to 1942. The work-relief program was beneficial to both enrollees as well as their families, as a large portion of their monthly salary was mailed home.
The CCC not only addressed unemployment but also addressed recreational, conservational and environmental needs. More than 3 million young men, otherwise known as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” planted more than 3 billion trees during the CCC's existence. Erosion was addressed, fires were prevented, and roads were built. Trail systems came to life, and campgrounds were formed for the ultimate outdoor adventure.
The CCC operated under the National Park Service, which provided guiding principles for the CCC to create structures in such a way that they were in harmony with the landscape, one complementing the other. Thus, the term parkitecture was born.
Generations later, the importance of the Civilian Conservation Corps to South Carolina State Parks is still evident. Table Rock State Park and Lake Greenwood State Park are enjoyed by thousands each year, and these beautiful state parks, along with 14 others, came to life thanks to the CCC. We get to hike, camp, and explore the great outdoors today because of this progressive planning in the 1930s.
Constructed in 1938 and meticulously restored in 2005, the Lodge at Table Rock State Park is an exceptional CCC-era building. Situated above Pinnacle Lake with phenomenal views of Table Rock Mountain, the Lodge is a remarkable example of CCC craftsmanship. The timeless materials of the Lodge blend beautifully with the surrounding scenery, making it an excellent portrayal of what the NPS aimed to accomplish through parkitecture.
Park visitors can view CCC work including the Table Rock State Park Dam, bathhouse, cabins, concession building, fish-rearing pools, picnic shelters, trails and warden’s building. All through the park, there are examples of the hard work, dedication and spirit of the CCC.
The Civilian Conservation Corps built Lake Greenwood State Park after Greenwood County donated the land in 1938. Many of the CCC buildings still stand today, reminding us of an era of both great loss and revitalization. A museum is dedicated to keeping the history of the CCC alive, and it’s a must-see for visitors. The engaging, colorful displays tell the stories of the men behind the work, what camp life was like, and the many rewards and challenges faced by enrollees in the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The CCC eventually became an option for World War I veterans, who were older than previous CCC enrollees but who felt the effects of the Great Depression just the same. Lake Greenwood State Park was home to one veterans camp: Company 2413. Though Company 2413 was a segregated white company, African American men comprised close to 40 percent of the CCC enrollees in South Carolina overall. Many camps were segregated as inequality was standard during the 1930s. However, many African-American veterans shared fond memories of their time enrolled in the CCC because the basics were provided during extremely difficult times.
At first glance, it appears that the rock wall at the park entrance is in the midst of being built or perhaps even damaged. However, the rock wall was intentionally left in this manner as a significant reminder of our history. The Civilian Conservation Corps ended abruptly in 1941 with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the men of the CCC dropped everything to leave and fight in World War II. It is a moving experience to stand among the rocks and be reminded of the sacrifices made for our freedom.
While the work was tough and labor-intensive, many CCC veterans had fond memories of their service and felt the experience created rewarding lifelong skills. The CCC teaches us about hard work, dedication and survival, along with true love and respect for our natural resources. South Carolina’s 16 CCC-built parks are indeed one-of-a-kind treasures with an incredible past.