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The New Deal: Parks for All Oklahomans


Did you know that Oklahoma's state park system was established in response to the Great Depression of 1929? Thousands of Oklahomans lost their jobs and homes. Farmers were battling the Dust Bowl that devastated fields throughout western Oklahoma. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office with the promise of a "new deal" for the United States where Americans would work together to overcome the economic despair gripping the country. President Roosevelt established numerous programs that employed Americans in projects to improve the economy. Several of those programs, especially the Resettlement Administration (RA), the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA), helped establish Oklahoma's state park system.


The RA worked with farmers in the vicinity of Ardmore to relocate them from marginal farm lands, assembling the land to develop a demonstration project for public recreation. The RA constructed Lake Murray and partnered with the CCC to develop campgrounds around the lake. Once completed, the federal government turned the project over to the State of Oklahoma with the promise that the lake would be used for public recreation in perpetuity. The Oklahoma Legislature then approved the purchase of additional land adjacent to the project to expand the project into what is know known as Lake Murray State Park, Oklahoma's first state park.


The RA also developed a resettlement project in the Cookson Hills, partnering with the WPA to develop Camp Gruber, Greenleaf Lake, campgrounds and cabins, some of which later became Greenleaf State Park. The CCC and the WPA partnered to construct Clayton Lake and adjacent campgrounds, which is now Clayton Lake State Park.


In addition to their work at Lake Murray and other sites, the CCC also developed campgrounds at Quartz Mountain, Roman Nose, Boiling Springs, Osage Hills, Robbers Cave, Beavers Bend and Spavinaw Hills. With the exception of Spavinaw Hills, which was abandoned, these parks became the foundation of the Oklahoma State Parks system. In many cases, local communities and residents donated the land on which the parks were developed, while their sons and grandsons worked in the CCC and WPA to construct the parks. Today, Oklahoma's state parks are cherished for their natural beauty, diverse recreational opportunities and their direct connection to the history of many Oklahoma families. Learn more about the CCC on the Oklahoma Historical Society's website- https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=CI012.


The decades have taken their toll on many of the special park structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The Foundation is working to raise funds to help preserve these structures for current and future generations of Oklahomans. If you would like to help, please consider donating and/or becoming a member of the Foundation- https://www.ospfoundation.org/membership-donate.


Inspired and want to see more? Check out this driving tour of CCC structures at Lake Murray State Park!


L. Murray CCC Auto Tour
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