The mission of the Raleigh Historic Development Commission is to identify, preserve, protect, and promote Raleigh’s historic resources.
Crabtree Creek Recreation Demonstration Area
Developed 1934 through 1941
A public works project provided relief for the unemployed and a much-used state park for Raleigh
Better known as Umstead State Park, Crabtree Creek Recreational Demonstration Area is a public works project that converted worn-out and sub-par farmland into a recreational park during the Depression. In the short term, the project supplied work for young, unskilled men who joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as well as work for the architects, foresters, and engineers who designed the project and trained the workforce. The CCC workers planted forests on old farm fields, created lakes, and built the rustic-style bridges, roads, trails, picnic areas, and camp facilities that are characteristic of CCC projects. Today, the park contains the region's best collection of New Deal rustic architecture and landscape design.
In the longer term, the project created a substantial public park near Raleigh. While the land was not great for agriculture, its deep ravines, rocky slopes, and hilly terrain lent itself perfectly to recreational uses. In addition, the demonstration project's proximity to North Carolina State University (then N.C. Agricultural and Engineering College) and the new School of Forestry at Duke University provided a real-world laboratory for students.
The goals of the Depression-era Recreational Demonstration Area program run by the National Park Service were to develop parks near urban areas and to provide employment for the local population. Often, as was the case with the Crabtree Creek project, the purchase of inferior farmland also aided struggling farmers.
In 1934, the federal government began buying land in the park area, located fourteen miles northeast of downtown Raleigh. CCC workers built four campsites in the 5,300-acre park, as well as picnic areas and day-use facilities. Work continued through 1941, when the entry of the United States in World War II slowed and later halted the federal program.
In 1943, the federal government sold the entire area to the state for a dollar. In 1950, the state segregated the park, renaming a thousand acres in the southern portion Reedy Creek State Park and designating it for use by African Americans, banning them from the rest of the park. The northern section was renamed in 1955 in honor of conservation-minded Governor William Umstead, who had died in office in 1954. The state ended its segregation of the park in 1966 and reunited the divided park into a single facility once again.
The state has continued to maintain and develop the park, building new structures and site features that are in keeping with the rustic nature of the CCC work. Activities available in the park include boating, camping, fishing, picnicking, hiking, cycling, and horseback riding. The group campsites built by the CCC remain; those include mess halls, dining areas, cabins, and wash houses. An exhibit hall explains the natural and cultural history of the park and park rangers host environmental education programs for the public.