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CCC celebrates 80th anniversary of role in Pa.'s state parks

| Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
A sign states that the fire danger is low at Raccoon Creek State Park off Route 18 in Beaver County on Saturday, Dec. 29th, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
A snow-covered Raccoon Park Road leads into Raccoon Creek State Park off Route 18 in Beaver County on Saturday, Dec. 29th, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Snow-covered trees hang over Traverse Creek at Raccoon Creek State Park off Route 18 in Beaver County on Saturday, Dec. 29th, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
A small waterfall is in Traverse Creek at Raccoon Creek State Park off Route 30 on Saturday, Dec. 29th, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
A snow-covered Raccoon Park Rd. leads into Raccoon Creek State Park off of Route 30 in Beaver County on Saturday, Dec. 29th, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review

A Depression-era federal program that is credited with helping to develop many of Pennsylvania's 120 state parks is marking its 80th anniversary.

Without the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, “a lot of our state parks probably wouldn't be there,” said Eric Rensel, natural resource specialist with the Bureau of State Parks. “A lot of roads — in some cases major highways — wouldn't have been built.”

The work relief program, part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, operated from 1933 to 1942, giving manual labor jobs to unemployed, unmarried men. They helped to conserve and develop land owned by federal, state and local governments.

“It was the beginning of the parks that we have here,” said Kevin Blair, assistant manager at Laurel Hill State Park in Somerset County, one of five Recreation Demonstration Areas that the National Park Service built with laborers from the CCC and Works Projects Administration, another Depression-era program.

They built recreation demonstration areas — which include Blue Knob, Hickory Run, French Creek and Raccoon Creek — near cities to provide open-air recreation for urban dwellers. These became state parks when Pennsylvania inherited them in 1945.

Many of the projects CCC workers built 80 years ago are still standing, Blair said.

“We still have two dams, Jones Mill Run Dam and Spruce Run Dam, that were put in place by the CCC,” Blair said. “We have four camps available to staff and nonprofits to enjoy nature that were built by the CCC.”

Those projects and others helped attract more than 36.8 million visitors to Pennsylvania's state parks in 2011, though the number was down from 37.8 million in 2010, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said.

Gas prices and bad weather helped contribute to the decline, spokesman Terry Brady said.

“Projections show us to be back on track this year,” he said.

Point State Park in Allegheny County drew 1.4 million visitors last year; Ohiopyle in Fayette County, 1.2 million. Raccoon Creek in Beaver County had more than 442,000 visitors.

Men who worked for the CCC would enroll for six months to two years. The government issued them uniforms, fed them three meals a day and paid them $30 a month.

In addition to working on state parks, they fought forest fires, did rescue work in Pittsburgh and Johnstown after floods, planted trees and built roads, buildings, picnic areas, dams, swimming areas and campgrounds. The program ended with the outbreak of World War II.

“A lot of the camps were able to mobilize. ... They had the equipment. They were the first responders,” Rensel said of the work after flooding.

The National Register of Historic Places lists almost 30 CCC sites across Pennsylvania, including portions of Raccoon Creek, Linn Run, Laurel Hill and Kooser state parks. One of the country's CCC museums is in Harrison County, West Virginia, just off Interstate 79 about 45 miles south of Morgantown.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.

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