By Keli Clark
Growing up, history was not always a favorite subject. In high school, the history teachers were always coaches. My fellow classmates and I knew our goal for the hour was to listen to the lesson for about 5 minutes then one of us would divert the teacher’s attention to the football, basketball or baseball game from the night before. The rest of the time would be spent on a play-by-play analysis of the sporting event. Believe it or not, we all made it through the years with some knowledge of history.
These days learning about the past is a lot more fun than sitting in a classroom and is as easy as taking a trip to an Oklahoma State Park.
A number of parks were built as part of the Depression era New Deal program that was founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The agency in the heart of this program was called the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Thousands of unmarried, and physically fit young men enlisted in the Corps and were sent to camps all across the United States, including Oklahoma, to learn a trade such as building structures, roads and bridges, planting trees and developing state parks. For their hard work, the CCC boys received a monthly stipend of $30. The workers kept $5 and the rest was sent home to help care for the families they left behind. The benefit of this program is still evident today in the detailed work that exists in our parks.
In western Oklahoma, Boiling Springs near Woodward and Roman Nose near Watonga are two of the original seven state parks built in the 1930’s as part of the New Deal.
Named for the natural springs that churn below the surface and “boil” up, Boiling Springs has deep roots in the CCC program. One of the original camps that housed the enrollees, Company 2822, was located nearby.
Following a plan already in place at many of the national parks, the state park designers incorporated a look described as “naturalistic architecture.”
Stone steps, bridges and foundations were designed to look as an inherent extension of the land they were built upon. The area near the lake and swimming pool offers a picturesque backdrop that showcases this standard.
Native gypsum rock along the lake walls and drainage culvert extend outward from the ground as if in a naturally formed pattern.
The large bathhouse that welcomes visitors to the swimming pool is also solidly built with the same type of rock and includes log supports.
The community building at the group camp is a testament to solid construction and craftsmanship learned by the workers.
Thick log beams make up the roof trusses, and large cut native stones line the outside of the building. A covered shelter near the cabins, also made from the same type rock is nestled in a hill blending into the terrain.
The park is a favorite for those who like to get away and enjoy a quiet moment or to watch the variety of wildlife that stroll through.
Work by the Corps began at Roman Nose State Park in 1935, however it wasn’t officially opened until 1937 and some structures weren’t completed until the next year.
Built on land donated by the Cronkhite Family, the park is named after Henry Roman Nose, a southern Cheyenne Tribal Chief whose family also donated land and who once lived within the boundaries. The canyons, mesas and natural gypsum rock in the area contributed to the materials that helped shape the park.
The most recognized structure is the large, rock swimming pool. When it was first built, the water in the pool was spring-fed and the icy water offered quite a wake-up call to the many swimmers who gathered in the hot summer months of western Oklahoma.
New health codes in the 1950’s brought the pool up to standard and it no longer has the bone-chilling effect it had before.
In other parts of the park, rock walls surrounding some of the picnic areas and metal signs that lead visitors to their locations are evidence of the Corps construction.
Not so evident are the heavy stones that were quarried, transported and hand laid by the workers now lining the creek-beds and culverts. A historical marker near the creek in the Deer Run area was put in place by the CCC workers.
Another memorable piece of handiwork is a pavilion that sits near the Spring of Everlasting Waters. This spot is frequented by lover’s young and old who often get engaged and eventually marry in the same place. The quiet location and gentle sound of the nearby water offers a romantic setting.
It is fortunate that such a program came into existence during a tough time period. With the income it provided, families survived and young men learned a skill that would carry them through the remainder of their lives.
Without their hard work and dedication in the past, the wonderful state parks we have today would not be the historical treasures that we enjoy in the present.