Russian Gulch and Van Damme State Parks CCC Heritage Adventure
The enrollees at Russian Gulch CCC Camp SP-11 developed both Russian Gulch and Van Damme State Parks. Separated by only four miles on Highway 1, both parks still use their original CCC-built recreation halls.
The Russian Gulch boys were involved in recreation both on and off the job. Other work projects included developing hiking trails, constructing roads and trails at Mendocino Woodlands Recreation Demonstration Area, and—some more unusual jobs for the CCC— greeting visitors and assisting with activities at the First Annual Rhododendron Festival held at Van Damme State Park, and constructing a float (the campsite on a flatbed truck shown here) for the local fourth of July parade.
As at all the CCC camps, the enrollees at Russian Gulch enjoyed activities such as sports, trips to town, movie nights, and reading in their free time.
(Click on map to download a printable map and tour description)
Russian Gulch State Park
To enjoy a park you have to be able to get there. Though there was a road of sorts from the land's pre-park use, it wasn't up to its new use for park public access. The men of camp SP-11 built the gently sloping road from the bluffs to the park's core area by the recreation hall. The CCC camp (shown in the photo at the top of this page) was on the bluffs where the park headquarters is now. The road was built in 1934. The beautiful concrete arch span it now passes under was not built by the CCC. It replaced the c. 1910 wooden trestle highway bridge in 1940. You can see the old trestle bridge in several of the photos on this page.
Russian Gulch Recreation Hall
The Russian Gulch Recreation Hall was adapted from part of an abandoned veneer factory left on the property. But the transformation was complete enough that the broken-down barebones building was not recognizable afterward. Besides fixing up the exterior, the CCC workers added a classic river rock fireplace inside. The former industrial building became a cozy, inviting recreation hall. The three photos above show the veneer plant/recreation hall before, during, and after adaptation.
The recreation hall has undergone a few changes. The log pergola in front was gone by the late 1940s. When State Parks replaced the recreation hall's foundation in 1980, workers had to raise the floor level. This left the fireplace hearth about two feet below the new floor.
Next to the fireplace you will see a plaque acknowledging the work of the CCC at Russian Gulch.
Russian Gulch Group Campsites
The group campsites are just up the road to the right of the Recreation Hall, across the stream. Though the main campground at Russian Gulch was rebuilt after the CCC era, the group sites retain their CCC-built large campstoves and tables.
Van Damme State Park
Van Damme Visitor Center (Recreation Hall)
The Van Damme Recreation Hall is now the park Visitor Center. It has not changed much since it was built. The small Park Rustic style building blends nicely with its seaside meadow setting, and resembles the many older shingled homes that make the Mendocino coast area reminiscent of New England. Inside you will find another beautifully constructed river rock fireplace, and log rafters.
Van Damme Staff Residence (Warden's Residence)
This small, unassuming house also looks very much like it did in the 1930s, and also has the ubiquitous Mendocino coast shingled siding.
For more information on Russian Gulch State Park, including maps and directions, click here.
For more information on Van Damme State Park, including maps and directions, click here.
Want to Go Farther?
Go visit a Skunk! (The Skunk Train depot and rail line, that is.) These photos and descriptions show the boys of company 572 leaving after their time at Russian Gulch. The depot pictured is now the Skunk Train excursion line depot in Fort Bragg. The route described from Fort Bragg to Willitts is the same route traveled by the Skunk Train line.
Fish vs. Fords
The CCC built nine concrete and stone fords (including the one above) over the Little River, which flows through the middle of Van Damme State Park. They were designed to allow spawning salmon to swim upstream. But by the 1990s scientists had determined that the stream crossings were keeping fish from their spawning grounds.
Park planners had to make a difficult decision: keep the historic fords, or support the fish population by removing them. If you hike the Fern Canyon Trail, you will see the final resolution. The middle sections of all the stream crossings were removed, except one which did not cause as many problems for the fish (see photos below). The ends, including rockwork, were left, and attractive bridges were built over each old stream crossing. Trailside panels share the story of the salmon and the story of the CCC.