The Mendocino Woodlands is a group camping facility and registered National Historic Landmark. In 1997, the Mendocino Woodlands was honored to become the first California State Park to receive National Historic Landmark status due to the exceptional architectural value of the structures as well as the site’s incredible significance as part of the history of the United States.
The facility is a wood-and-stone work of art built by the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s to rehabilitate lands that were ravaged by logging. The Mendocino Woodlands Recreation Demonstration Area was built to introduce the public to the wonders of nature through recreation and conservation, and is one of forty-six campgrounds (including Camp David) created to retire submarginal agricultural and other lands, and develop them for recreational use.
California State Parks include some of the most impressive state parks developed anywhere in the United States during the 1930’s. Planning for California state parks had been greatly advanced in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and former Park Service Chief Landscape Architect Daniel R. Hull.
A seminal figure in the creation of the National and California State Park systems who helped develop the Park Rustic style and shape the philosophy behind the practice of landscape architecture in America’s natural parks and wilderness, Daniel R. Hull oversaw the master-plan of the one-hundred and thirty-one structures at the Woodlands. Hull worked for the National Park Service for nearly forty years, and also oversaw the master-planning for Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde. It fell to Hull to oversee the design and placement of the Woodlands’ myriad cabins and lodges in a way that honored the natural landscape that surrounded them.
A special relationship evolved between California State Park authorities and the Park Service during the 1930’s, and the Mendocino Woodlands showcases this as the largest and most intact state park development undertaken by the Park Service in California.
The Mendocino Woodlands was the only Recreation Demonstration Area built in California,
the only one constructed in a Redwood forest,
and one of only two group camp facilities built west of the Rockies.
Planning for the park began in 1934, when the Federal Emergency Relief Administration committed funds to acquire submarginal agricultural lands for various new purposes. The Mendocino site was immediately identified as an ideal location for a new RDA because of its inherent beauty and reasonable proximity to major metropolitan areas. The park was constructed on the site of the abandoned logging town of Boyles (founded in 1912, and razed in May 1936).
By the spring of 1936, a general development plan had been approved and construction was underway. The number of WPA enrollees building the park varied from as many as 350 to as few as 90. Topographical and road surveying, fire suppression, and other activities were underway at “Boyle’s camp” in addition to the construction of the group camps.
Camp One opened at Mendocino Woodlands in 1938. Construction continued, however, on dozens of buildings. Water and sewage systems were under construction, as was a telephone system, swimming facilities, foot bridges, and “landscape naturalization” around the completed construction projects. By 1943, all three group camps had been completed.
The entire park has continued to serve its original purpose virtually unaltered and without interruption since inception.
Originally, the Woodlands consisted of 5,425 acres. In 1976, Senate Bill 1063 split that parcel of land, reducing the camp to approximately 700 acres in a narrow corridor along the river, and transferred it to the State Department of Parks and Recreation. Since 1949, the Mendocino Woodlands Camp Association, a 501(c)(3) non-profit public-benefit organization, has managed and maintained the park and facilities.
The Mendocino Woodlands has been given to the people of California with the mandate that the facility be used for group and family recreation, and environmental education.