1933 - 1942
In the early 20th century, decades of environmental neglect caught up with the nation. The western dustbowl and eastern erosion created a widespread image of a ruined landscape. This image coupled with the economic need to put young men to work in the Great Depression, led to a national policy of conservation and park development and the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1933.
South Carolina embraced the program early, mostly for its economic benefits, and a number of CCC camps were set up around the state. Initial mobilization and management of the CCC fell to the military, but soon leadership and planning roles came to professionals in the National Park Service with training in resource management, landscape architecture, forestry, and recreation planning. Many conservationists, such as Ben S. Meeks of Florence, also assumed leadership roles and instilled a conservation philosophy to the movement.
The National Park Service began to purchase abused land to “restore nature” and many of the great eastern national parks such as the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks were developed at the same time and with the same guidelines as our early state parks. State parks like Table Rock were developed as “small national parks,” guided by the same philosophy and planning criteria. Visitors to both the national and state facilities usually notice the common ancestry.
A combination of local initiative and federal involvement led to many of our first state parks. Park sites were often donated by local entities, added to, and developed as recreation demonstration units under the guidance of the National Park Service. Cheraw was the first of these, in 1934, where the community purchased 706 acres for a state park, the first property in the system. That same year, the legislature charged the Commission of Forestry, the only agency with a mandate to conserve natural resources, with the responsibility of developing and administering a state park system.
Using local building materials, such as stone and rough-cut timbers, the men of the CCC and other federal projects built lasting structures that we still enjoy today at Oconee, Paris Mountain, Table Rock, Kings Mountain, and several other parks. Sixteen state parks were acquired during the 1930s and Myrtle Beach was the first to open on July 1, 1936. By the end of the 1930s, the CCC efforts were shifted to national defense and the Forestry Commission assumed responsibility for completing the park projects. Staffs were limited and summer visitation was managed by seasonal employees. At the turn of the decade, there were only four full-time headquarters employees and two superintendents.
The Civilian Conservation Corps developed the following state parks in South Carolina: Aiken, Barnwell, Cheraw, Chester, Colleton, Edisto Beach, Givhans Ferry, Hunting Island, Lake Greenwood, Lee, Myrtle Beach, Oconee, Paris Mountain (Listed on the National Register of Historic Places), Poinsett, Sesquicentennial, Table Rock (Listed on the National Register of Historic Places).
The U.S. Forest Service also became involved with state parks in the early years, cooperating in the development of Aiken and Lee state natural areas and Oconee, Paris Mountain, Barnwell, and Sesquicentennial state parks. The Forest Service provided invaluable expertise in erosion control and reforestation, as many of these properties were not preserved wilderness, but abused and damaged farmland.
The philosophy of the early state parks was not unlike what this report recommends for the present. A 1936-37 report of the Commission of Forestry stated concern for the loss of “beautiful scenic spots” that would continue “unless steps are taken to stop it.” State parks were “to save the pieces; to preserve typical portions of our beautiful State for ourselves and posterity.” The report continued: “A State Park may be defined as an area of land possessing unusual natural beauty, historical interest, educational value, or recreational importance, which has been acquired by the State, developed, and to be preserved for the use of the people in securing wholesome recreation and education.”