State parks, the New Deal, and kayaks


Image courtesy of Cliff1066. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

As part of my apparent thirst to spend as much of November away from my home as humanly possible, I spent this past weekend in FDR State Park, in a delightful cabin, with friends and beer and a lovely view. There was kayaking. Marshmallows were roasted.

You may be wondering why Georgia has a park named after a famous lefty president from New York. (You should have paid attention in Georgia History, dear reader. Those of you not from here, you get a pass.) It’s due in part to the nearby Little White House, FDR’s second home, where he routinely traveled to bathe in the nearby warm springs in order to help his polio and–though not mentioned by the lovely displays in the Little White House museum–be with his mistress.

The park itself makes relatively little mention of the president, aside from directing visitors to the Little White House 13 miles away. Instead, they focus on the Civillian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program that took unemployed young men and sent them to work building up our state and national parks system. The cabin that my friends and I had rented was a CCC project, as were the other cabins nearby and the many miles of trail.

The park center had a video playing on loop, with interviews from old men who had been CCC workers in their youth. They talked about how wonderful it had seemed, that you received clothes you could wear, a little bit of money, and (unheard of for many of the boys and young men entering the Corps) three meals a day of as much as you could eat. There was mandatory daily bathing and calisthenics before breakfast. It helped eat into the ready supply of unemployed young men, improved our natural resources, helped the families of the men in the program (they were sent most of their wages), and left the men physically fit. It seems to have been a good program.

After viewing the video I was pleased to be part of a nation that put such a program together at the same time that we were also electrifying rural areas, funding massive public arts programs, and creating social security. I felt a brief pang of disappointment thinking about that compared to current attempts to reform our profoundly, painfully broken and inefficient healthcare system, and was reassured to realize that–as a friend reminded me–Roosevelt nearly resorted to packing the Supreme Court to have some of that legislation passed. America has never been particularly responsive to the welfare state concept.

Other than looking at American historical relics, my friends and I spent much of the weekend reading books (so many books), watching ceder waxwings fly outside our cabin door, and peering down into the foggy valley below. During a brief period of sun, we were able to meander down to a nearby lake and–thanks to the helpful park rangers, who will rent you everything you need for a pleasant stay–rent kayaks with which to terrify the local turtle population. It was a perfectly lovely weekend.

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