Kanawha State Forest is a 9,300-acre recreation area located near the community of Loudendale, West Virginia, which is about 7 miles from downtown Charleston, West Virginia. The forest was home to one of the job-relief Civilian Conservation Corp project sites, Camp Kanawha, from 1938 to 1942. In 1993, the Kanawha State Forest Historic District would be listed on the National Register on the merits that the buildings and structures within it were monuments to the Great Depression and the CCC. It is managed by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, and while still classified as a state forest, the West Virginia Legislature has directed that the facility be managed as a state park.
The early years in the late
nineteenth century of what would become the Kanawha State Forest were occupied
mostly by industrial interests, mining and timber particularly. From the late
1800s to the early 1900s, the Black Band Iron and Coal Company operated in the
area on a 3,500-acre section near the mouth of Davis Creek. The coal company
was owned by Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company, who also operated a mill that
produced staves for their beer barrels in the forest. From 1888 to 1907, Black
Band would open several mines in the forest before closing up shop. To aid in
transporting the coal the Kanawha and Coal River Railroad was built along Davis
Creek in 1892.
The land was left in poor condition as
the industrial efforts simply made their money here and then they left
it. Yet, many of the structures and industrial infrastructure would
remain intact and can be found even today in the park. The poor condition of
the land made it a prime target for the job relief program known as the CCC.
The CCC would begin the Kanawha State Forest project in 1938 as a part of the wider
national CCC effort that ran from 1933 to 1942. CCC workers would build their base, Camp Kanawha,
at the mouth of Shrewsbury Hollow, where they lived while working on projects
throughout the region. About 200 men would be employed at the camp from 1938
until it disbanded in 1942, with the onset of World War II.
The CCC was effective as a job relief
program in the area, providing workers with a monthly wage of $30, of which $25
would be sent back to their family, while providing housing and food
accommodations for the workers. But the program also was widely successful in
restoring the land that had become tarnished from industrial effort. The CCC
removed old coal tipples, old industrial equipment, dismantled abandoned
houses, built roads, dams, five of the forest's ten picnic shelters,
planted trees, and cleared 25 of the forest's 50 miles of walking trails. What
was once a industrial wasteland, the CCC had revived in a highly
successful conservation effort. By 1966, the area would be home to 574 species
from 292 genera representing 93 families, while about 65 tree species grew in
the Kanawha State Forest would be listed on the National Register, with the
argument that the buildings and structures in the Kanawha State Forest
Historic District were monuments to the Great Depression years, and to the
mandate of the law that created the CCC. “That for the purpose of relieving the
acute condition of widespread distress and unemployment now existing in the
United State, and in order to provide for the restoration of the country’s
depleted natural resources and the advancements of public works…” Today the
park advertises numerous outdoor activities from camping, fishing, golfing,
geocaching, hiking, biking, hunting, and to swimming among other things.