On the Shoulders of Giants

As spring fast approaches, South Carolina State Parks are getting ready for what we hope is a special year.  A year of campouts, great hikes, picnics, exploring new places and new adventure!  During the winter months, parks are busy getting ready for your next visit. Winter is a time when we often work on renovations, repairs and improvements.  Each year I visit all of our state parks and review our projects and plans for the next year.

Recently I spent a couple of days at Oconee and was reminded of just how important taking care of your parks really is.  Park Manager Jo Anna White and her team were excited to show me some of the projects that are underway.  As I walked around the lake at Oconee with Jo Anna, we discussed the many projects going on at this grand old park.  Renovations to the historic CCC cabins that had already begun, repairs to the spillway behind the CCC bathhouse, and several roofing projects will be getting started before visitors return to enjoy their park this spring and summer season. 

Admittedly, it can be a bit overwhelming at times but there is plenty of inspiration around for motivation.  There is, of course, the natural beauty of the park and the classic “parkitecture” that was used to blend the facilities into the natural setting of the South Carolina mountains. Then there’s “Iron Mike,” the statue of a CCC worker commemorating the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps who built Oconee and 15 other South Carolina State Parks, who’s piercing eyes keep watch over the work of the greatest generation.

It was a different time, when the CCC built South Carolina’s state parks.  It was 1933. President Franklin Roosevelt sent legislation to Congress aimed at providing relief for unemployed American workers. He proposed the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to provide jobs in natural resource conservation. A year later, South Carolina would have a state park system that would impact not only that generation, but generations to come. Over the next decade, the CCC put more than three million young men to work throughout the nation, planting trees, conserving both private and federal land and building parks.  South Carolina’s state parks were indeed built by the “greatest generation.” With projects in every U.S. state and territory, “Roosevelt’s Tree Army” lived in camps and received a wage of $30 per month, $25 of which they were required to send home to their families. It was more than a work program; in the evenings enrollees took advantage of classes offered in subjects from current events to welding. It was more than a work program; its influence would affect park management and park visitors for the next 80 years.

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

Sir Isaac Newton

The legacy of the CCC and the countless number of state park employees who have followed them, serve as inspiration and remind us of our responsibility for this and future generations.  As Jo Anna and I continued to walk through the park, I was constantly reminded of the work of the CCC. It still amazes me the craftsmanship, the use of native materials, the lines they create and the stories I’m sure these park facilities could tell. As we walk past the iconic CCC shelter, Jo Anna reminds me the impact of these facilities, as she remembers her wedding day in this very spot.  Yes, they are more than just facilities…they are places where memories are made. 

As the day ended I looked forward to an evening in Cabin 2, a unique CCC cabin with vertical logs and a classic fireplace.  As I settled in for the night, I enjoyed a fire and the sounds of rain on the roof. I couldn’t help but think of the many projects that are going on in your state parks this year- renovations, repairs and recovery.  As the room filled with the magic light only a fire can create, I’m reminded of the standard set over 80 years ago, and the impact that these facilities have on future generations.  For a moment, I remember special memories I have had in state parks, as a child and as an adult. I’m reminded of stories I hear from you about your special memories.  What came out of tough times has not only survived but become a part of Americana, a part of our history, of our daily lives. A place where memories are made. The legacy of the CCC continues to live on in the campgrounds, cabins, hiking trails and landscapes still enjoyed by South Carolinians today. Spring is just around the corner, there’s lots going on at your state parks... enjoy!

See you in the parks!

Phil