Bear Creek Cottage Unit at Silver Creek Youth Camp, Silverton OR
The early development of Silver Falls State Park can be credited to several of the New Deal programs. A significant portion of the land for the park was purchased by the federal Resettlement Administration (RA) c. 1935, and developed for recreational use through the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA) between 1935 and 1942. During that period, a distinction was made between Silver Falls Park, which was accessible to the public, and the area designated as the Silver Creek Recreation Development Area (RDA), which was a special federal program designed to allow urban youth access to nature in a camp setting while reclaiming depleted lands from farmers and reforesting it for those camps. The portion of Silver Falls State Park originally developed as Silver Creek Recreation Development Area occupies the southeastern portion of the current park’s boundaries as shown in the map below.
Given the value associated with access to nature, particularly for young people, the federal government developed the Recreation Development Area (RDA) concept as a New Deal funded program. Forty-six RDA areas were selected nationally with only two identified for the states west of the Mississippi River, thus making the Silver Creek RDA an impressive asset for Oregon. Landscape Architect David Thompson oversaw the development of the RDA plan, which was completed in 1936. The original RDA proposal called for four new youth camps in the area but only Silver Creek Youth Camp and Smith Creek Camp were funded. The Smith Creek Camp has been significantly altered through modernization efforts and is currently being used as a conference center with additional land designated for cabins.
The Silver Creek Youth Camp, however, retains its original layout and the majority of its buildings date from the New Deal era. The Salem YMCA has operated a summer camp at this site since 1938 – with the exception of a recent closure due to Covid19. The National Park Service supervised the design of the camp itself with its centrally located administrative and group use facilities and grouping of four distinct cabin areas. Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers built the road system into the Silver Creek RDA, created a trail system, developed the landscaping, and constructed the cabins and camp buildings.
In 2002, the Silver Creek Youth Camp received recognition on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places for its association with New Deal era programs and the quality of its design. As noted in the nomination of the historic district, it is “an excellent and nearly intact example of the parks planning and group camp development methodology that was being promulgated by the National Park Service during the 1930s.” Those features that exemplify the methodology include its dominant feature, a large centrally located open playing field and natural “swimming pond,” and the four cabin clusters and administrative buildings distributed around it.
Silver Falls State Park and the Silver Creek Recreation Demonstration Area were united as one park in 1948 as it was transferred to administration by Oregon State Parks.
"Silver Creek Youthcamp Historic District, Silver Falls State Park," National Register of Historic Places Registration Form (Submitted April 29, 2002). SHPO Database website: https://heritagedata.prd.state.or.us/historic/index.cfm?do=v.dsp_siteSummary&resultDisplay=45804
Project originally submitted by Judith T Kenny on June 20, 2022.
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