1942 - 1967
By 1940, the Forestry Commission, now with substantially less federal involvement, added to its general principles factors such as locating parks within 50 miles of every person in the state, an optimum park size of 1,000 acres or greater, a two-area system for whites and blacks, and priority development for serving mass needs. But World War II ended the park development and several examples of unfinished works are still evident. (One example is at Greenwood State Recreation Area, where blocks of stone still remain where they were left. An extensive, interactive exhibit featuring the work of the CCC there and across the state has now been installed at the park.)
During the war years of travel restrictions and rationing, the parks provided recreation close to home for day use. Since there were a number of military bases in the state, military personnel used the parks for recreation as well as defense purposes. Myrtle Beach, Edisto Beach, and Hunting Island were garrisoned as lookout posts, and maneuvers were held at several parks.
Following the war, the nation’s economic state had improved and people were ready for the “good life,” which included recreation. Improvements were made to facilities neglected during the war and new features were added.
Visitors were no longer satisfied with primitive accommodations. Many cabins and group camps were electrified in 1946 and Cheraw's cabins even received refrigerators in 1947, a convenience that many homes did not have. The Forestry Commission soon recognized family camping as an important trend and planned some facilities. Overcrowding became evident at many facilities and began to be addressed.
In the 1950s, increased mobility and leisure time was brought about by road improvements, the abundance of automobiles, and relative affluence. South Carolina adopted a more utilitarian design philosophy for the parks in order to meet growing demand and began providing modern and convenient facilities. Substantial increases in visitation created a need for increased maintenance and upgrading. Mobility impacted recreation at the most desirable parks, often to the neglect of many local parks. Coastal parks became the locations of choice.
New technology and prosperity changed preferences for recreation. Alternative entertainment opportunities (movie theaters, radio, and television) grew and, later, air conditioning of public places began to reduce the need for swimming and picnicking. The rise of municipal recreation facilities, such as swimming pools and tennis courts, along with country clubs and other private alternatives provided new competition for state parks, especially those serving mostly local needs.
The Forestry Commission also had to deal with the loss of federal support, dramatic increases in use, maintenance, and increased staffing, at the same time as use began to increase outside of the summer season. Commitments were made to keep fees low and to charge only for facilities that incurred direct operation costs, such as cabins and group camps. Potential revenue began to influence development, leading for example, to a pier at Myrtle Beach and a swimming pool at Rivers Bridge.
Because of its growing popularity, family camping came to be viewed as an opportunity for revenue enhancement and the 1955 Commission reports provide the first mention of family campgrounds. Some of these were relatively primitive with pit toilets at the campgrounds and showers provided at the swimming area bathhouses. Myrtle Beach hosted more than 50,000 campers in 1955. Demand soon forced the $1 per site fee to be raised at the beach parks.
The parks division received its first capital improvements bond issue in 1954-55 but, unlike later general obligation bonds, these revenue bonds had to be repaid through park revenue. The initial use was for construction of additional cabins primarily for revenue production. One problem with increasing revenue-producing facilities is that they tend to have higher initial costs, higher long-term maintenance needs, greater personnel demands, and require continual updating.
During the 1950s, the parks division also embarked on an experiment to bring about recreational development on parks through private funding. At Hunting Island, the “beach village” plan envisioned private homes on 130 lots offered for lease in 1951. This concept failed to generate the expected interest and the 30 lots that remain under private lease on the park still create management difficulties, limit public use, limit recreational development opportunities, and generally degrade the aesthetic value.
Increasing responsibilities of field personnel required a comprehensive training program. New employees were now schooled in maintenance, park procedures, and record keeping, while advanced training was offered in public relations and interpretation. The strong educational mission of the state parks was further demonstrated by the production of a nature interpretation radio program available statewide.
The earliest parks, which focused on cultural themes, were usually small and unmanned, with little cost to the state. But the previously stated goal of historical interpretation and preservation was disregarded in the 1950s, as revenue-producing activities were added to some facilities rather than increased enhancement or interpretation of the historical resource. A new trend emerged in 1960 with the addition of Old Dorchester (site of a thriving a pre-Revolutionary War village upstream on the Ashley River above Charleston) and Rose Hill, an antebellum plantation. Both sites were developed without the recreational elements typically associated with state parks up to that time. Their function was almost completely oriented toward preservation and interpretation. Also, they did not fit into the evolving focus on increasing revenue base.
The civil rights movement affected the parks as it did all areas of society. Separate facilities had been provided for white and black citizens, although they were never equal as claimed. In 1961, a class action suit was filed to integrate the parks and in July, an order was issued for the state parks to comply en toto with the Civil Rights Act of 1954. The S.C. Attorney General responded by closing all the parks in 1963. By the following summer, however, they were opened on a limited basis and, by 1966, they were returned to full operation under the leadership of Gov. Robert McNair and because of the people’s will and the political process. It was a true testament to the value of the parks system to the citizens of South Carolina. (For more information on this topic, see Stephen Lewis Cox, "The History of Negro State Parks in South Carolina, 1940-1963," MA Thesis, University of South Carolina, 1992.)