In the late 1980s, as growth in Raleigh and Wake County was exploding, there was concern about keeping some buffer between that growth and William B. Umstead State Park. Former N&O writer Nash Herndon provided some details of the park's history.
A federal Civilian Conservation Corps camp during the Depression, the site was used during World War II to house 500 British sailors whose ships were torpedoed off the Carolina coast. The federal government gave the land to the state in 1943, as Crabtree Creek State Park on the north side for whites and Reedy Creek State Park on the south for blacks. -- The News & Observer 2/27/1989
The park had its beginnings as the Crabtree Creek Recreational Demonstration Area, a Depression-era public works project to convert exhausted farmland into parkland.
In 1936, E. C. Daniel described the "reverse pioneering" project to preserve the land and help struggling farmers.
American pioneering has been thrown into reverse. The nation is beginning to back-track over the trails trampled across the country by its first settlers.
Some of those settlers, in their haste and eagerness, made mistakes in their selections of land and in their methods of using it. To aid in correcting the mistakes, ... the Resettlement Administration was established. ...
An area along Crabtree Creek ... illustrates one type of mistake now being tackled by the Resettlement Administration.
Decades ago, fine and valuable hardwood trees, oak, walnut and maple, spread their shade over the slopes of the area and anchored its soil with their roots.
Settlers along the creek ... first cut those trees for lumber to build their homes and then hewed down others to sell. Eventually the area was stripped of its forest growth.
The story is an old one. As land was cleared and tilled, it yielded to the erosion of rain and wind. And now the Crabtree Creek area is hacked across with hilly and narrow ridges, rocky slopes, ravines and broad divides between streams.
On some of its stony and infertile slopes, farm families for many lean years have been scratching ragged furrows and trying to produce cotton.
The poor lands in the area have produced poor living conditions, poor people and poor support for government, schools and churches. So, the Resettlement Administration is purchasing 5,800 acres in the territory and giving its owners an opportunity to move to other, more productive lands.
In the Crabtree Creek area, then, pioneering is being reversed. Actually, the Resettlement Administration will not "develop" the area but intends to restore "its original wilderness state," as it existed before the pioneer came....
Because of its very ruggedness, the district is particularly suited for the uses which the government agency has in mind: To make it a public recreational area.
Probably 50 of the families living in the area will be aided by the Resettlement Administration in establishing themselves on new lands. Other families have realized a sufficient amount from the sale of their farms to reestablish themselves. One old couple, who do not wish to move, have been granted permission to remain in their home as long as they live. -- The News & Observer 5/10/1936
Women wash clothes in the Crabtree Creek Recreational Demonstration Area in 1936. Courtesy of the North Carolina Archives