Developing the Parks
On March 31, 1933, Roosevelt signed the bill that created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which was to be comprised of young, single, unemployed men who would be put to work improving the nation's parks and natural areas. Originally intended to employ half a million men, the CCC employed more than six times that number during the nine years that it existed. The men's achievements included constructing more than 40,000 bridges, planting two billion trees to restore depleted forests, making improvements to shorelines and roadways, and developing 800 state parks. Of those state parks created by the CCC, Virginia's were the first, due in large part to the inspiration of William E. Carson, Virginia's first chairman of the Commission on Conservation and Development, which was created by the General Assembly in 1926.
In 1933, shortly after the CCC was created, Carson had the opportunity to spend some time with Roosevelt at the presidential retreat, Camp Rapidan, in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. While there, Carson suggested to the president that the CCC be put to work establishing state parks, at this point a task not yet part of the corps's duties. A goal that had been on Carson's mind for years, the development of a state park system would require significant manpower and funding (from the CCC, he hoped), and land, which he promised to acquire. Much to Carson's pleasure, Roosevelt consented to send him the men and money as soon as locations for the parks could be determined.
The First Six Parks
Once the creation of the parks was underway by the CCC, Carson retired from his post as chairman of the Commission on Conservation and Development. In June 1936, celebrations marked the opening of Douthat, Fairy Stone, Hungry Mother, Seashore, Westmoreland, and Staunton River state parks. In a speech at the dedication of Hungry Mother State Park, Virginia governor George Peery said, "State parks are for all the people, and not only will they afford recreation for our own people but will bring tourists from other states … I believe these parks will contribute greatly to the national good as we go forward to the splendid destiny that awaits in the future." In the midst of the Great Depression, the opening of the state parks provided citizens with some much-needed good news and brought with them the hope of new jobs and economic opportunities in the state.
The goal of the parks has changed little since their initial creation: to provide recreational opportunities for citizens and protection of Virginia's natural heritage. In pursuit of that goal, the state parks now include more than 500 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding; 237 cabins; seventeen lodges; 1,834 campsites; and numerous swimming pools, beaches, picnic areas, playgrounds, and snack bars. The state parks also provide boating opportunities on Virginia's major bodies of water, including its lakes, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.
Attendance at Virginia's state parks has continued to increase significantly over the decades since the first six were opened. The state parks system was awarded the gold medal for parks and recreation management at the National Recreation and Parks Association annual meeting in 2001.
- Bear Creek Lake (Cumberland County)
- Belle Isle (Lancaster County)
- Breaks Interstate (Dickenson County)
- Caledon Natural Area (King George County)
- Chippokes Plantation (Surry County)
- Claytor Lake (Pulaski County)
- Douthat (Alleghany and Bath counties)
- Fairy Stone (Henry and Patrick counties)
- False Cape (Virginia Beach)
- First Landing (Virginia Beach)
- Grayson Highlands (Grayson County)
- Holliday Lake (Appomattox County)
- Hungry Mother (Smyth County)
- James River (Buckingham County)
- Kiptopeke (Northampton County)
- Lake Anna (Spotsylvania County)
- Leesylvania (Prince William County)
- Mason Neck (Fairfax County)
- Natural Tunnel (Scott County)
- New River Trail (Grayson and Wythe counties)
- Occoneechee (Mecklenburg County)
- Pocahontas (Chesterfield County)
- Sailor's Creek Battlefield Historic Park (Amelia County)
- Shenandoah River Raymond R. "Andy" Guest Jr. (Warren County)
- Shot Tower (Wythe County)
- Sky Meadows (Clarke and Fauquier counties)
- Smith Mountain Lake (Bedford County)
- Southwest Virginia Museum (Wise County)
- Staunton River Bridge Battlefield (Halifax County)
- Staunton River (Halifax County)
- Twin Lakes (Prince Edward County)
- Westmoreland (Westmoreland County)
- Wilderness Road (Lee County)
- York River (James City County)
Natural Area Preserves open to the public
- Bethel Beach (Matthews County)
- Buffalo Mountain (Floyd County)
- Bull Run Mountains (Fauquier and Prince William counties)
- Bush Mill Stream (Northumberland County)
- Chub Sandhill (Sussex County)
- Cumberland Marsh (Cumberland County)
- Dameron Marsh (Northumberland County)
- Goshen Pass (Rockbridge County)
- Grassy Hill (Franklin County)
- Hickory Hollow (Lancaster County)
- Hughlett Point (Northumberland County)
- New Point Comfort (Matthews County)
- North Landing River (Virginia Beach)
- Pinnacle (Russell County)
- Poor Mountain (Roanoke County)
1926 - Virginia's General Assembly creates the Commission on Conservation and Development, and Harry F. Byrd names his good friend William E. Carson as the agency's first chairman.
1929 - The Virginia Academy of Science, the Garden Club of Virginia, and the Izaak Walton League petition for the establishment of state parks in Virginia.
April 17, 1933 - The first Civilian Conservation Corps work camp is established in Luray, Virginia.
March 31, 1933 - U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the bill that creates the Civilian Conservation Corps.
April 9, 1933 - William E. Carson spends time with U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt at Camp Rapidan, in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, and convinces the president to put the Civilian Conservation Corps to work establishing state parks in Virginia.
June 15, 1936 - Virginia's state parks system launches when the six inaugural parks—Douthat, Fairy Stone, Hungry Mother, Seashore, Westmoreland, and Staunton River—open simultaneously. All of the parks are products of the workers employed by U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps.
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First published: November 6, 2008 | Last modified: April 7, 2011