While public works projects of this year’s federal stimulus program are being planned or put into action, Oklahomans still enjoy the fruits of stimulus programs engineered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal seven decades ago. When visitors go boating, water skiing or fishing at Lake Murray State Park near Ardmore or rock climbing at Robbers Cave State Park near Wilburton, they are enjoying facilities first developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Congress established the CCC on March 31, 1933 — during the first 100 days of Roosevelt’s administration. In 1934, Oklahoma had 5,000 men in 26 CCC camps. Boiling Springs, Roman Nose and Quartz Mountain state parks were developed in western Oklahoma by the CCC, while Osage Hills, Beavers Bend and Greenleaf were among state parks built in eastern Oklahoma. "The CCC was just for openers,” said Dr. Bob Blackburn, director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. "In 1935, Congress authorized the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which built hundreds of school buildings, municipal buildings, armories and park facilities. WPA art, theater, music and writers’ projects still are part of Oklahoma’s heritage. "When Oklahomans enter the Oklahoma City Municipal Building or the Oklahoma County Courthouse, they are utilizing WPA projects of the 1930s,” he said. "The same goes for events at the Oklahoma City Zoo Amphitheater, or visitors enjoying Alice Harn Park and clubhouses at Tolan and Wiley Post parks.” All this stemmed from the Great Depression, which some Oklahomans still remember. In March 1933, one-third of Oklahoma families were on relief, and that led to the CCC. Unmarried men between 18 and 35 lived and worked in the camps. They were paid $30 a month, with $25 sent to their families. The Oklahoma State Park Commission and the National Park Service planned the CCC work in Oklahoma state parks. To this day, the parks provide a wide variety of experiences, ranging from the cool springs amid white sand at Boiling Springs State Park near Woodward to rustic cabins at Greenleaf State Park near Braggs, a gateway to the Tall Grass Prairie near Bartlesville, and the rushing Mountain Fork River at Beavers Bend. Boating, hiking and swimming are available at most state parks. Lake Murray and Robbers Cave state parks are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The WPA operated differently from the CCC, employing men and women on projects to provide long-term benefits for communities, including 119,000 Oklahomans between 1935 and 1937. The WPA also provided on-the-job training for future employment. The WPA spent $59 million in Oklahoma by 1937, including 70 percent for labor, 5.27 percent for administration, and the rest to buy equipment and materials. Projects varied extensively. An archaeological excavation helped develop the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center. Another project led to preserving Sequoyah’s Cabin. Both are operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society in eastern Oklahoma. "The New Deal legacy is still enjoyed in the 21st century by millions of Oklahomans who swim, boat, camp and hike in parks across the state,” said Suzanne Schrems, who worked on the New Deal Era State Parks Survey for the Oklahoma Historical Society. The same goes for those of us who use municipal and county buildings, more than 50 armories, and enjoy fine music and art in Oklahoma City. Max Nichols writes a monthly column for the Oklahoma Historical Society.
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