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NPS Expansion: 1930s







New Deal



NPS 1933-39




Expansion of the National Park Service in the 1930s:
Administrative History

Chapter Three: Impact of the New Deal on the National Park Service
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F. Emergency Relief Act Projects: 1937-1941

Up to and including fiscal year 1937 the annual reports of the director of the National Park Service contained separate accounts relative to the allotments and activities of each of the New Deal agencies that were supplementing the regular appropriations of the National Park Service. Beginning in 1937 the various public works programs underway in the National Park System were consolidated under one topic--Emergency Relief Act Projects. The following will describe the various "emergency relief act projects" undertaken in the system from 1937 to 1941 when wartime priorities began to take their toll on both regular and depression-era public works appropriations.

In 1938 the Park Service director reported that "E.R.A. Federal and non-Federal projects in operation by the Service totaled 65 at the close of the fiscal year, compared with 84 at the end of the 1937 fiscal year." Curtailment of funds during the period July 1 to December 31, 1937, had necessitated termination of operations on thirty-four non-Federal projects, and on June 30, 1938, only four non-Federal Emergency Relief Act projects remained under Park Service supervision.

During the fiscal year the bureau had received funds from the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1937 and the Emergency Relief Supplementary Appropriation Act, approved March 2, 1938. The emergency funding was expended "for land acquisition and development and research projects in 9 national parks, 4 national military parks, 9 national monuments, 1 national historical park, 44 recreational demonstration areas, 2 parkways, 1 beach erosion control project, 20 State, 3 county, and 12 municipal park areas." In addition, there were seven nonconstruction projects in three states and the District of Columbia employing white-collar research workers. These projects gave employment to an average of 10,500 relief workers, of which 7,500 were local workers and 3,000 were quartered in subsistence camps operated by the Service. These statistics were considerably below those of the previous year when the Emergency Relief Appropriation acts of 1936 and 1937 had provided employment for some 19,000 relief workers, of which 12,000 were local laborers and 7,000 were quartered in subsistence camps. [40]

During fiscal year 1939 the emergency relief projects operated under the supervision of the National Park Service increased to ninety-four (seventy-five development and nineteen "white-collar"). The development projects, operated on federally-owned lands in thirty-five states, were carried on in twenty-eight areas of the National Park System, forty-three recreational demonstration areas, one beach erosion control project, and one national cemetery. One of the most prominent projects was the construction of 104 miles of brush fencing and the planting of 980 acres of grass to arrest and prevent sand erosion by wind and wave action along more than 100 miles of beach in the proposed Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina. All told, the National Park Service received $9,268,308 from emergency relief appropriations in 1939 for the operation of projects under its provisions. These funds provided employment for some 13,751 emergency workers as of June 1939. The monthly average of relief workers for the year was 11,500, of which 9,200 were employed locally and 2,300 were quartered in subsistence camps. [41]

In June 1940 Director Cammerer observed in his annual report that the Park Service had received $5,467,839, plus administrative funds from the WPA, for the operation of eighty-three development and seventeen white collar relief projects in thirty-seven recreational demonstration areas, seventeen areas in the National Park System, and the proposed Cape Hatteras National Seashore, employing a monthly average of 6,614 workers during the year. The seventeen white-collar projects involved statistical analyses, guide and station contact work, research, and travel bureau work.

The efforts in the National Park System consisted of "restoration and preservation of features of natural and historical importance, scientific research connected with naturalist, archeological and geological programs, guide service, construction of simple park facilities, and conservation of soil, forests, and water." Historical areas in the system that were beneficiaries of restoration and preservation work by relief forces were Fort Marion (park name changed to Castillo de San Marcos on June 5, 1942) National Monument, Florida; Fort Jefferson National Monument, Florida; Fort Laramie National Monument, Wyoming; Salem Maritime National Historic Site, Massachusetts; and Homestead National Monument of America, Nebraska.

Work in the recreational demonstration areas slowed in 1940 but additional facilities were built to meet the demonstrated needs of the operating units. Through cooperation with the city of Memphis, Tennessee, which furnished salvaged materials, a custodian's residence, dam, lodge, and additional recreational facilities were built in the Shelby Forest Recreational Demonstration Area.

Moreover, Cammerer stressed the need for permanent Civil Service personnel to carry on the growing National Park Service activities under appropriations made directly to the bureau in view of the reductions in emergency relief funding and personnel. He observed:

. . . When the many new duties came to the Service in 1933 through consolidation and relief work, 2,027 permanent employees were conducting all Service work. At the peak of Public Works and other emergency activities, the total personnel amounted to 13,900. At the end of June 1939 the total was 13,751 . By June 1940, partly through transfer of the Buildings Branch to the Federal Works Agency, this figure had been reduced to 7,341 employees. Of these, 3,956--more than 50 percent of the total personnel--hold appointments under P.W.A., C.C.C., and E.R.A.--rolls which for several years past have been consistently reduced and which undoubtedly will be more drastically curtailed in the future as defense activities are expanded. In other words, the personnel of the National Park Service is constantly decreasing, despite the definite upward surge of activities. Steps should be taken to secure funds for adequate civil service permanent personnel to conduct the regular Service activities now maintained through emergency personnel. This applies not only to many activities in the Washington office financed through emergency funds, but also to the administration of numerous field units, in particular those historical areas transferred to the Service in the 1933 consolidation with no funds for their administration or maintenance.

New areas were not the only new responsibility placed upon the National Park Service during the summer of 1933. Then also came the necessity of providing public relief projects--a fight of depressed economic conditions in which the Service wholeheartedly joined. In cooperation with the Public Works Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Civil Works Administration, and other emergency agencies, projects were initiated and put into operation. . . .

Placing all park administration, protection, and maintenance on a permanent civil-service basis, under appropriations made direct to the National Park Service, would be a forward step in park administration and in the long run an economical one, eliminating the constant turnover in personnel inherent in emergency, non-civil-service positions. Elimination of these abnormal turnovers and of the consequent vast amount of paper work entailed and the building up of stabilized permanent personnel would release many employees in the Service, the Office of the Secretary, and the Civil Service Commission for other needed work. [42]

With the threat of war looming on the horizon the funding and personnel for emergency relief projects was further reduced in 1941 . The Service received $4,119,950 in emergency relief appropriations for operation of fifty-four projects, including forty-seven development projects in Park Service areas and recreational demonstration areas, on which were employed an average of 4,700 relief workers. This amounted to a decrease of approximately 30 percent in funds and workers and 43 percent in operating projects from the previous year Seven white-collar projects were engaged in assembling, preparing, and disseminating information on travel and recreation facilities; mapping forestry data; performing research; preparing museum displays; providing guide service; and gathering material on the National Park System for publication. [43]

With this brief overview of the impact of the New Deal on the National Park Service in mind, it is appropriate that consideration be given to the new initiatives in recreational development and historic preservation undertaken by the bureau in the 1930s. These initiatives could not have been undertaken on the scale that they were without the infusion of funds and manpower of the New Deal relief programs.


Last Modified: Tues, Mar 14 2000 07:08:48 am PDT

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