During the 1930s, many farmers in East Texas noticed that their crop yields were steadily decreasing. Some of the problem was caused by the fact that farmers insisted on planting their crops in straight rows, producing the perfect environment for soil erosion. The fertile soil was simply washing away along with an estimated $400 million nationwide in crop loss. Meanwhile, in the nation’s capital, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was proposing a civilian conservation corps to combat high levels of unemployment. Among the corps’ responsibilities would be a new effort to prevent soil erosion.
In September of 1933, Hugh Hammond Bennett, an expert on soil conservation, became the head of the Soil Erosion Service (SES). Bennett saw an opportunity to use the manpower of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to provide erosion prevention help for individual farms across the nation. Bennett wished to show farmers everywhere the value of conservation techniques. By the end of 1934, there were over 160 CCC camps dedicated to soil erosion prevention. One such camp was the Lindale CCC Camp, housing Company 896.
CCC Company 896 participated in the Duck Creek Erosion Project in Lindale, Texas. The CCC enrollees constructed terraces, planted trees and shrubs, and built dams in efforts to reduce soil erosion in Smith County. Educating the local farmers was also a big part of the CCC efforts at Duck Creek. CCC enrollees taught local farmers how to use cover crops, contour plowing, strip cropping, and fertilizer to improve the quality of the soil. The CCC worked with farmers in a 25,000 acre area in Lindale and tried to implement individualized soil conservation plans for each farm.
Projects like the Duck Creek Soil Erosion Project created a lasting legacy of agricultural education and experience. The erosion prevention techniques were not new, but the large-scale approach of the CCC led to more awareness, education and utilization of these techniques. The Duck Creek Project was one of the first organized, scientific, soil erosion endeavors in the country. The project was so successful in conservation education, experimentation and demonstration, that the Duck Creek area evolved into a training ground for many in the field: foresters, biologists, surveyors, agronomists, economists and engineers.