On September 29, National Public Lands Day, the National Parks will celebrate by waiving the entrance fees to all national parks.
But Shenandoah National Park’s National Public Lands Day celebration may signal a deeper look at the future. The event will feature the Civilian Conservation Corps by hosting the Park’s 79th Annual Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni Reunion. Sadly, this year is the last time that the park will host the event, says Shenandoah spokesperson Karen Beth-Herzog. “We don’t have a lot of the ‘boys’ that are actually coming back, so many of them have passed on, but their families do come back and get together and see each other.” As the "Greatest Generation" of WWII era military veterans leave the stage, the ranks of CCC alumni has similarly dwindled.
Started in the midst of the Great Depression as a part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” the CCC has likely done more for national parks than any other organization or generation. That’s particularly true in Shenandoah, which saw the first CCC camps in the National Park Service—Skyland and Big Meadows—and later hosted eleven CCC camps.
The early days of the CCC at Shenandoah were focused on making trails, picnic grounds, fire towers, and log comfort stations. Perhaps the most famous contribution of the CCC is Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road along the Blue Ridge Mountains known for its spectacular views and relaxing pace. The CCC played an integral part in developing Skyline Drive, from guardrails to overlooks.
From 1933 to 1942 more than 1,200 CCC men a year worked at Shenandoah. The park was even honored by a visit from Roosevelt himself, who used Shenandoah as the poster child for the success for the CCC.
The classic features of many of the National Parks we enjoy today would likely not exist without the labor of the CCC. Now, 79 years after the first CCC crews started their work, Shenandoah continues to honor those who made the park a reality. The reunion not only honors the CCC men and their families, but invites the public to hear first-hand about their experiences.
As the country pulled itself out of the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps ended and with it the labor that built and maintained the national park facilities that so many of us continue to enjoy today. One can only hope that the passing of this “greatest generation” of national park stewards will call subsequent generations to follow in their footsteps.
For those who can make the trip to Shenandoah, alumni reunion events will take place at the Big Meadows Lodge Massanutten Room beginning at 10:00 a.m. with remarks from park superintendent Martha Bogle. The Byrd Visitor Center also has an interactive exhibit, “Within a Day’s Drive of Millions.” This exhibit tells the story of Shenandoah’s establishment and development including the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Visitors can also view a free film entitled ‘The CCC Boys.’