The collapse of the Cabin Branch Pyrite Mine, and the onset of the Great Depression eight years later, forced industrious landowners, farmers, and mine workers to economize. Houses and farmland fell into disrepair and a large percentage of park landowners failed to pay their taxes. As the local economy was making subtle shifts deeper into poverty, the national economy was in complete turmoil. The Roosevelt Administration began looking at proactive ways the government could assist American families.
It was during these dark times that Conrad Wirth, who would later become Director of the National Park Service (NPS), led in the development of the Recreational Demonstration Area (RDA) program. The optimistic RDA program aimed to provide relief to struggling farmers by developing outdoor recreation areas near major cities. As was typical of many new deal programs, local farmers rarely shared the government’s view of their farmland as ‘sub-marginal’ and economic situation as ‘bleak’. To many, it was just a simple life. The RDA program hoped that by paying farmers to move elsewhere, they would be giving the land a second chance and a second life as an outdoor playground for poor Washingtonians. Of the 150 families that lived on the proposed RDA land, many had called this place home for over a century. Some families were resettled to places just outside the boundaries, and others refused to leave. The entire resettlement process would take over eight years to complete. More...
In early 1935, Wirth and members of his staff toured 11,000 acres along the Chopawamsic and Quantico Creeks. The beautiful landscape, proximity to Washington, DC, and overall opportunity for improvement led Wirth to select this land to become Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area – the model for the entire RDA program. Over 2,000 men of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) emergency work program spent 8 years building Chopawamsic. Their crowning achievement was the construction of five group cabin camps that would house summer camps for Washington, DC’s underprivileged children. Planners hoped the Chopawamsic camps would inspire health, happiness, and pioneer patriotism in the ‘lost generation’ of children playing in the dirty streets of Washington, DC during the hard times of the great depression. After development by the NPS, all RDAs were supposed to be turned over to state or local parks for operation. The NPS held on their model RDA, Chopawamsic, because of its high value to the children of Washington, DC.