Talk with Richard Walker, Living New Deal Director
“How the New Deal Helped Launch California’s Parks”
Marin Municipal Water District
March 7, 2023, 12:00 PM PDT
The New Deal played a crucial role in developing all of California’s national, state and regional parks at a critical stage of the history of public parks in the state. It arrived immediately after the creation of the state parks system and a generation after the launch of the National Park Service, just as the progressive idea of outdoor recreation was sweeping the country.
The New Deal, 1933 to 1942, was a broad set of federal programs under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, many of which have been forgotten. The best known for park improvements was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which worked in all extant parks of the time. But the relief workers of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and Civil Works Administration (CWA) were active in the parks, as well.
In addition, the Public Works Administration (PWA) funded park acquisition and improvements, the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) helped pay for park roads and access highways, and the Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec) and Corps of Engineers built reservoirs later incorporated into recreation areas. Finally, the National Park Service was given expanded duties and funding by the New Deal, providing leadership for the states and the parks movement nationally.
As a result, the legacy of the New Deal is everywhere in the parks created before the middle of the 20th century, from Lassen to Yosemite, Humboldt Redwoods to Big Sur, and Mt Diablo to Calaveras Big Trees. Traces of New Deal work are scattered throughout these parks and many facilities are still very much in use: campgrounds, picnic areas, cabins, visitors centers, ranger stations, water lines, roads, bridges, overlooks and more.
The Living New Deal has documented many of these, but there are many more to be discovered. Some are marked, many are not, and that is a shame because the people of California who enjoy their parks need to know what is possible when the forces of good government are investing in public goods — of which our parks are leading examples. We need the help of park rangers and staff throughout the Golden State to expand and improve our inventory of New Deal.
Richard Walker, Exec Director, The Living New Deal