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To Love the Beautiful:The Story of Texas State Parks

A New Deal for Texas State Parks:  Introduction

Pat Neff speaks to the Big Bend CCC camp, 1934

Pat Neff speaks to the CCC camp in Big Bend's Chisos Mountains, 1934.

#1989/6-64, Don R. Brice Collection, Prints and Photographs Collection, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives.

Though he was unpaid, State Parks Board chairman David Colp had campaigned tirelessly since 1923 to build a state parks system for Texas. It was a lonely quest. The legislature was disinclined to appropriate a dime for parkland; even donated lands were rejected unless the donor or a local government agreed to pick up the tab for development and maintenance. Colp had only a single success in his first ten years of work, somehow pulling off the acquisition of Longhorn Cavern in Burnet County, along with a contract for its development.

In one of history’s paradoxes, it was the Great Depression that broke loose millions of federal dollars to create a park system larger than Colp and his friend Pat Neff had ever dreamed.


What was the CCC?

CCC boys digging well at Big Bend, 1934

"A well done job." Digging a water well at the Big Bend CCC camp, 1934.

#1989/6-60, Don R. Brice Collection, Prints and Photographs Collection, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives.

By any measure, the Great Depression was the nation’s worst domestic crisis since the Civil War. With the stock market crash, the gross national product was off by 29%, construction was down 78%, and overall investment had fallen by an incredible 98%. Unemployment stood at 25% and the rate was even higher among young people. Many young men left home to spare their families the burden of feeding them. They roamed the city streets and countryside with no prospects for the future.

Franklin Roosevelt had the extraordinary vision to see this calamity as an opportunity to accomplish work that had gone begging for decades. Rather than simply hand out relief checks, Roosevelt wanted to fund short-term, labor-intensive community projects that would provide work for this army of men and youths. Wilderness reclamation, mass tree plantings, and public parks were ideal candidates for the kind of projects he had in mind. They would provide high-impact, long-term benefit to the community without interfering with the recovery of private enterprise.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was created on April 5, 1933, just four weeks after Roosevelt took office. An ambitious goal was set: to put 275,000 young men to work by July 1. The projects were styled as military companies, with most reserved for men between ages 18 and 25 with families in need. There were also programs for military veterans, who could be older, and requirements to hire local engineers, architects, landscape architects, and skilled craftsmen to work on the projects.

The CCC was considered so urgent that the U.S. Army was granted wartime powers to transport recruits and acquire supplies for the projects. More men would be enrolled in the CCC than in the Army itself. The National Park Service was designated to oversee the work.

Barbecue inquiry, 1934


Clashes between CCC administrators and local people could develop over simple matters. In late 1933, the CCC superintendent at Palo Duro Canyon threw a barbecue to celebrate the completion of the first road project. A huge brouhaha broke out over who would pay for the party. Colp and the Parks Board were forced to step in to mediate the dispute.



 Blue Eagle News, Mother Neff State Park, 1937

The camp newsletter from Mother Neff State Park reveals a busy camp life that included much more than work. Instructors gave vocational training in blueprint reading, house wiring, and the civil service exam, as well as academic subjects ranging from religion and science to photography and current events. Camp life also included a library, vegetable garden, and amateur entertainment. The boys note with pride the compliments of park visitors: "The men grin and say, 'Sure wish I had one of those built-in bathrooms at my home.'"


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Page last modified: November 7, 2016