President Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented the New Deal programs to revitalize the nation’s economy during the Great Depression. Recreation and infrastructure projects provided employment opportunities. Begun in 1933 the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), commonly called the “Tree Army,” focused on reforestation and recreation projects. More than 55,000 West Virginia men were enrolled in the CCC and the state had more than 65 camps. Generally, CCC camps held a complement of 150-200 men housed in Army-style barracks. Enrollees were paid $30.00/month with $25.00 sent to the families and $5.00 for personal use.
The second wave of New Deal programs began in 1935 and included the Works Progress Administration (WPA); it became the largest New Deal agency. The WPA built and improved city and county infrastructures such as roads, sewer systems, bridge building and municipal buildings. The WPA was also responsible for many arts, drama, media and literacy projects. Evidence of federally sponsored activities such as the Writer’s program, photography of the Great Depression in Appalachia, as well as post office murals and other arts programs are found throughout WV.
The earliest efforts to provide relief in the coal camps were privately funded. In May 1933, as part of the First Hundred Days legislation, Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act. This included funds for the subsistence homestead program through the Department of the Interior. Subsistence farming with part-time industrial employment and handicrafts would support families devastated by the Depression. A chief supporter of these programs, Eleanor Roosevelt often visited West Virginia to attend events and meet with families
State Parks and Forests
In 1933, the WV Legislature established the Division of State Parks to utilize the CCC, WPA and other Federal programs. The State provided $75,000 in 1934 to purchase about 30,000 acres of land (about half of the present-day park system) for $5.00 or less per acre. Most of the land had been ravaged by timbering, forest fires and bad agricultural practices making it prime acreage for reforestation and recreational development. Most state parks and forests were also established as game refuges. Native game such as deer, turkey and grouse had been lost to habitat destruction and over hunting. Early CCC built cabins were very primitive with ice boxes, kerosene lamps and stoves. Many camp buildings were disassembled at the start of WWII and used in the war effort wherever they were needed, but some are still extant in their original locations such as the barracks and recreation building at Watoga State Park, as well as the forest service buildings at Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park. Once the CCC program was terminated in 1942, the state began operating the park system completely from state appropriations