Visitors to the Platt Historic District find a remarkable and inviting landscape of swimming holes, winding trails and roads, campgrounds, and rustic stone buildings that provide a quiet, intimate place to relax and explore the natural environment. These features reflect the hard work of young men whose lives were changed by an organization that lasted only nine years but left an indelible mark on the landscape of the United States. These “Men Who Built the Parks” left a legacy in parks and forests across the country, and decades later, millions of people still enjoy their work.
A Troubled Economy
Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was elected president by a landslide in 1932 with his promise of a “New Deal” for the American people. Within days of his inauguration, FDR called Congress into special session to work on emergency legislation to aid the economy and the American people. Many new agencies and programs were created to provide relief and restore the economy. President Roosevelt kept his promise and the New Deal was born.
Roosevelt’s “Tree Army”
Initially, unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 25 whose families were on relief could apply. They enrolled for six months, with an option to reenlist for up to two years. Enrollees earned $30 a month, $25 of which was sent to their families. Eventually, “Local Experienced Men” and World War I veterans were allowed to enroll. African-Americans and American Indians also participated, generally in segregated CCC companies.
A New Deal for Platt National Park
The early appearance of Platt National Park was not what we imagine today when we think of national parks. Early park features included not only mineral springs, but flower beds, animal pens and a golf course.
The small size and humble resources of Platt National Park were somewhat atypical, when compared to the great landscape parks with their sublime scenery and monumental hotels. Yet visitors didn’t seem to notice; in 1914, Platt’s visitation exceeded that of both Yellowstone and Yosemite and was second only to the Hot Springs Reservation in Arkansas.
Because of its limited size and the unusually large number of visitors, portions of Platt were heavily impacted by camping, cars, and people. Balancing visitor needs while protecting park resources was a constant struggle in the early years of Platt National Park. The programs and federal dollars of the New Deal were seen as “a golden opportunity” by park staff.
Camp and Community
Camp facilities included a headquarters building, day room, and a little canteen where enrollees could buy cigarettes, gum, and candy; in the middle of the camp were a shop, educational and supply buildings. Two barracks, a latrine, and a mess hall were on the west end. Three more barracks were located on the south side and a flagpole in the parade ground. The camp cook would prepare hot lunches, including sliced pies, which were brought into the field to feed work crews.
Company 808’s masonry, forestry, and landscaping work was exemplary, but the development of the young men “mentally, physically and morally” was the most outstanding part of the program. Enrollee Jay Pinkston remembered working “harder in Platt National Park than I ever worked for any contractor or expected to.” In June 1940, after eight years of work, Company 808 moved from Platt National Park to Rocky Mountain National Park. When the CCC boys left, one writer remembered, “a feeling like that accompanying an irreparable loss settled on the community.”
According to CCC mason Frank Beaver, soil and rock was removed from the front of Antelope Springs to reveal the fresh water spring emerging from the solid rock formation below. Enrollee Earl Pollard commented that, “The construction supervisor said that all landscaping was ‘nature faking.’ The shoulders had been graded and they wanted to make it grow back natural.” Enrollee Truman Cobb commented that he “took care of those slopes. They put us to doin’ somthin’ that would last, and make something beautiful. You go today, where they’re building highways and it’s just an old barren cut there and nothin’ pretty about it. But we sloped those things, leaving the boulders, leaving the outcroppings that would be picturesque…. We might work half a day around one boulder… kinda like an artist”
The CCC planted 800,000 plants, including 60 tree species throughout Platt National Park. Enrollee Delbert Gilbert, who served on the ‘sapling crew’ remembered, “They schooled us on not hurting the trees. Don’t break no green limbs off, you know, and we took that schooling.”
Although the Platt Historic District’s landscape features—stone bridges and culverts, scenic vistas, rustic buildings constructed of native limestone, and plantings of cedars and wildflowers—are important individually, together they compose a cohesive and seemingly natural recreational environment. Thus the CCC design of Platt National Park transformed an eroded resort landscape into a holistic place of great beauty, whose enduring recreational and scenic values visitors still experience and appreciate today.
The CCC advanced natural resource conservation in this country by decades, and provided education, training, and experience for a generation of young men.
Remembering the work of the CCC at Platt National Park, enrollee Truman Cobb observed that, “all of the pavilions are just kind of monuments to some real good construction work. Even the restrooms are made with permanence….”
Millions of visitors to the Platt Historic District have enjoyed the work of the CCC. During your visit take a drive along the perimeter road, hike the trails along Travertine Creek or through Flower Park, and remember the young men who worked there many years ago. As Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., wrote, the Civilian Conservation Corps has “left its monuments in the preservation and purification of the land, the water, the forests, and the young men of America.”
Written by park ranger Eric Leonard.
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Last updated: May 25, 2020