On March 31, 1933, congress passed the Emergency Conservation Work Act, creating the Civilian Conservation Corps. On April 5, the president appointed Robert Fechner of Tennessee as Director of Emergency Conservation Work. Fechner, a vice-president of the American Federation of Labor, was given the task of creating an agency that would relieve distress through the employment of idle young men on constructive conservation projects, to aid in the rehabilitation of young men and to assist in the national efforts toward economic recovery. Fechner utilized established agencies to accomplish this monumental task. He used the United States Army to establish and administer the camps. The Army had long experience in housing, feeding and providing medical care for large numbers of men, but Fechner prohibited the Army from giving any type military training to the young CCC enrollees. The projects were assigned to the National Park Service, Soil Conservation Service, Bureau of Wildlife Management, the Forest Service, or some other subdivisions of the Department of Agriculture, or the Department of the Interior. The Office of Education establishes instructional programs in the camps, and these programs became extremely popular, motivating many young men to join the CCC.
The official designation of the Turtle River State Park project was North Dakota State Park #5, or supply SP#5. The Worth Dakota State Historical Society suggested using a 475 acre tract of land one mile north of Arvilla, North Dakota, Early in 1934 the National Park Service sent inspectors to Grand Forks County to determine if the proposed project at Arvilla was within the CCC's guidelines. After determining the feasibility of the project they authorized the establishment of a camp.
During the life of the project three separate CCC companies were utilized to complete the work. The first CCC company for the Turtle River project was only a temporary camp created to perform preliminary work, area clean up, and site reconnaissance, the preliminary survey of the proposed project. CCC Company 2770 arrived at Larimore, North Dakota on August 20, 1934. and Larimore would be the home of all, three CCC companies. Company 2770 performed the initial work and were sent into winter quarters on October 1, 1934 and passed out of the history of the Turtle River State Park.
CCC Company 4727 was activated on June 25, 1935, but would spend less than two months at Larimore before being transferred. They were sent to Minnesota to establish a camp midway between St. Paul and White Bear Lake, remaining there for almost two years. On July 13, 1937, they were moved to Fargo, North Dakota, and remained there until being transferred back to Larimore on October 8, 1938. They remained at Larimore until the abandonment of the CCC at the beginning of World War II.
A third group, CCC Company 764, took up the Turtle River project in August 1935, establishing a permanent camp to begin project SP#5. Company 764 continued the work begun by Companies 2770 and 4727 turning the gravel pit and trash dump into a beauty spot and popular recreation area. On October 1, 1937, the project was abandoned by the CCC and National Park Service and the project appeared dead, but local support and agitation reopened the work on the park a year after it was first stopped. On October 5, 1938, SP#5 was revived and Company 4727 was transferred back to Larimore to complete the work.
Company 4727 continued the work begun by Company 764 and went on to improve on existing facilities. Two of the major projects begun by Company 764 and finished by Company 4727 were the Bath House and Swimming Pool and Beach. The large Bath House, 44 x 100 feet, was constructed in 1937, finished in 1938, remodeled in 1939 and again in 1940. The Bath House, now known as the CCC Memorial is one of only three buildings remaining from the original projects and is utilized now as a large group picnic shelter. The Swimming Pool and Beach were created by damming the Turtle River and excavating above the dam. The river was diverted and a five foot rubble masonry dam was constructed, while the stream bed above the dam was dredged and a pool base created by filling the area with sand and sloping the banks with rock riprap.
The other two projects still in use are the Turtle River Lodge, now the Woodland Lodge, and the Custodian's quarters, now the Park Manager's residence. The Woodland Lodge is still used by large groups and little renovation has been needed due to the expertise of the builders,
The Civilian Conservation Corps was a great boon to North Dakota, Grand Forks County, and all the young men who worked at Turtle River. The project created a lasting monument to a group of green young men, willing to give of themselves for the betterment of others and who chose the opportunity to work rather than accepting welfare handouts when times were tough. There were a number of New Deal programs that had limited or no value, but the Civilian Conservation Corps was not one of them. Civilian Conservation Corps projects reclaimed abused lands, reforested millions of acres of over-cut and burned-off forests, and in the case of Turtle River State Park, created a popular and long-lasting recreation area for the future. Every time a picnicker or camper uses the park there is a rededication to the history these young men were making.
Donation; (95-2017). Additional material was added by Special Collections in 2009 (2009-2971).
The records of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Turtle River State Park project contains correspondence, project reports, project documents, camp newspapers, reunions of Civilian Conservation Corps veterans, a historical essay on the Turtle River State Park project, and numerous newspaper clippings.
The correspondence dates from 1935 to 1992, and contains reports on the projects accomplishments, community support for the project, miscellaneous official communications, and letters and bulletins about the three reunions in the 1980s. The most interesting correspondence concerns the proposed closure of the project in 1937 and again in 1940. The project reports and documents chronicle the progress of the park from its shaky beginnings to the successful completion in 1941. One of the most unique parts of the collection is the camp newspapers of CCC Companies 764 and 4727. They offer an intimate portrait of the young men who built Turtle River State Park, and who gave that cold, official project a spark of life. The newspapers entertained the men and kept them informed of the events, both national and international, unfolding outside their rural world. The historical essay is a history seminar paper written by Thomas Mulhern in the spring of 1993. The paper examined the geological and historical life of the Turtle River valley, the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the National Park project that built Turtle River State Park.