Though many don’t realize it, a quiet walk around White Rock Lake can turn into a history lesson. For instance, who built the picnic pavilion at Flagpole Hill, the Winfrey Point building, or the entrance gate at East Lawther and Garland Road?
The answer is the young men who enrolled in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Many of these same “Boys in Green” – much older now, of course – will reunite in Dallas for the CCC’s National Alumni Association Reunion Sept. 28-30.
The CCC came about during the Depression when President Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the Emergency Conservation Work Act to put thousands of unemployed young men to work restoring the nation’s natural resources. The U.S. Army built the camps where the young men lived, and the first enrollee signed up April 7, 1933.
Sally Rodriguez, Dallas’ park and recreation coordinator and the reunion organizer, says the corps had a great impact on parks in Texas. The men worked on all of the state parks that existed at the time, and helped with erosion control projects.
“Part of the problem with the Dust Bowl was the famers didn’t know how to protect their soil,” Rodriguez says. “So they went in and taught the farmers.”
The beginning of World War II marked the end of the CCC, and the men were automatically enlisted into the Army. The White Rock Lake camp functioned from 1935 until 1942, averaging about 200 residents at a time. Though the enrollment period was six months, many participants stayed for two or three years, earning an average of $30 a month but keeping around $8. The remaining dollars went home to their families. The CCC provided the enrollees with opportunities they couldn’t find at home, including improved health.
“Most of these young men were underweight because they were poor,” Rodriguez says. “Now, they were getting three square meals, and with hard manual labor, they bulked up and put on weight.”
The camp also offered classes for men who didn’t have high school diplomas. At a previous reunion, Rodriguez met a man who, at the time of this enrollment, was 16 and in the sixth grade. He began as a truck driver. Later, when World War II broke out, the Army put him in a mechanics class because of his driving experience. He eventually went on to receive a degree in engineering from the University of Southern California.
Rodriguez has heard many such stories. At the reunions, she says, the parking lot is filled with expensive SUVs and Cadillacs; she says a man once told her, “You’d never know we were all poor boys, would you?”
One of the reunion’s events will take place at Flagpole Hill. The picnic shelter is being restored and will be rededicated, while the men are present, Thursday, Sept. 28, at 10 a.m. Texas Parks and Wildlife also will be conducting an antique tool demonstration to show how the men built the structures around White Rock Lake.