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The New Deal

The Depression years were not only a time of economic distress, but an era of vast areas of the American landscape suffering from drought or deforestation. The need for widespread conservation measures coupled with the lack of employment for young men resulted in the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps as a part of FDR’s plan for national economic improvement. The CCC was officially created on March 31, 1933.

The seeds were sown for the need of the CCC nearly a half century or more prior to its creation. The prevailing timbering method of the early Twentieth Century was clear-cutting which seems ruthless mistreatment of the earth by shaving it bare of every tree!

Following years of logging, the scene on almost every hand throughout much of the Alleghenies was one of almost total devastation.This was especially true in eastern Tucker County where fires following in the wake of loggers even laid bare the bedrock.

The value of trees for slowing runoff to aid in flood prevention was given little thought until a disastrous flood occurred on the Monongahela River in 1907. Many of the mountains at the headwaters of the river were devoid of trees by this time and added to the magnitude of flooding. The need to protect and reforest the Monongahela headwaters was given great impetus with federal legislation in 1911 authorizing the purchase of land for creating the Monongahela National Forest. Fire suppression and reforestation were given priority among projects initiated with the establishment of the national forest.

Enrollees of the CCC had to be unemployed, unmarried and between the age of 18 and 25. Upon acceptance by the corps, recruits were required to enlist for 6 months and for their service received food, clothing and living accommodations.

Camp Parsons one of the first CCC camps was built at Parsons near the federal tree nursery with over two hundred recruits from across West Virginia. Camp Parsons was operational from April 20, 1933 until nearly the close of the CCC program in 1942 and housed CCC Company 518, also known as F-3. Company 518 was responsible for assisting in operation and managing the massive tree nursery adjacent to the camp. The nursery was the heart and sole source of millions of tree seedlings planted by other CCC "Boys" throughout West Virginia and elsewhere. According to a US Forest Service report, the Parsons nursery provided seedlings for not only the Monongahela National Forest, but the Shenandoah, the Allegheny and 6 other forests as well, not to mention many other, unforested all-points areas of the state.The report stated: "The nursery was capable of producing as many as 7.5 million seedlings in its beds at one time. Principle species raised in it were red spruce, white pine, red pine, white spruce, hemlock, European larch, Japanese larch, red oak, white ash, black locust, black cherry and yellow poplar." ( re:,"50 Year History of the Monongahela National Forest; USFS staff report. September, 1970. page 43.)

CCC recruits also played a key role in halting the spread of the white pine blister rust. Their responsibility was the eradication of gooseberry and currant bushes that serve as the alternate host for the tree disease. A worker carried a tray of seedlings and planted them about six feet apart as he made his way up a slope. The work was monotonous, tiring under a hot sun and difficult in rocky terrain. Workers had to be constantly vigilant in looking out for copperheads and rattlesnakes when reaching close to the ground!

In 1933, a temporary tent camp, Camp Lead Mine, was built along Horseshoe Run in Tucker County and occupied by CCC Company 1524. In 1937, the site became Horseshoe Forest Camp, a recreational campground and swimming area. Adjacent to this popular recreation spot, the Monongahela National Forest built the Horseshoe Organizational Camp. Opened in 1940, “Camp Horseshoe”, as it is locally known, was designed specifically for the use of service organizations to provide recreational and outdoor educational opportunitiesfor children and adults. The camp is operated by the YMCA and has been since its opening. The camp is one of only a handful of New Deal organizational camps ever built in the eastern US.

In 1934, the Conservation Commission leased over 400 acres including the site of Blackwater Falls in the first step in the creation of Blackwater Falls State Park. CCC workers were soon reforesting the area and it was even necessary to bring in topsoil to cover places that had been totally denuded. This and other work done by the Civilian Conservation Corps Camps laid the basis for our modern day park system. Blackwater Falls State Park and the Blackwater Canyon Area reaped the benefits of manpower and the $50,200,000 that was invested in the CCC in our state.

Reforestation was carried out on a seasonal basis with the magnitude revealed in figures for the spring of 1937. More than 1500 acres were planted with nearly a half million red pine seedlings. These projects included the reforestation of the top of Canaan Mountain. A system of trails called The Plantation Trail was carved out of the mountain by the CCC. Before the CCC arrived the land was completely barren, covered only by roots and stumps. The basic trail network was built by the CCC; it was a major part of their reforestation program.

In order to prevent and control further forest fires, a series of fire breaks and a network of pump changes were built on the mountain. Ponds were created by dams so that during a fire a portable pump carried by the CCC firefighters could be dropped in to siphon water to put out the fire. The vestiges of this network of “pump change” dams can still be found on top of Canaan Mountain. A fire tower was built on the mountain called Lookout Rock Fire Tower. The rock on which the tower stood can be seen today; the tower is gone.

Years later, in 1943, servicemen used the same area for training maneuvers during WWII. By the time they arrived, the trees had grown to about the height of a man and the mountain was covered with Red Pine and Spruce, which had been planted by the CCC. A few random hardwoods had also grown up, but the forest would not have existed if it hadn’t been for the CCC.