In the 1930s the Clifton Forge Chapter of the NAACP, through the insistence of Rev. FH Austin, pastor of First Baptist Church, requested that the forest service construct a recreation area for use by African- Americans in the area. During this era, segregation in America was the norm, and African-Americans were prevented from using forest facilities. The plans for the specially requested area were approved in 1936 and construction on Green Pastures Recreation Area began in 1938.
On June 15, 1940, the area was dedicated and open to the general public. Green Pastures was one of the few “colored only” recreation areas in the United States. At that time, Green Pastures was under the administration of the Glenwood Ranger District on the Jefferson National Forest. Even before construction was finished the area was being used by African-Americans from Covington, Clifton Forge, Lexington, Alleghany County, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and other surrounding localities.
Green Pastures was built by the Dolly Ann Civilian Conservation Corps Camp F24. Some of the men who helped build Green Pastures still live in the area, and visit today’s Longdale Recreation Area on a regular basis. Memories take them back to their days in the CCC and how they came together to build a new nation, under President Roosevelt’s New Deal Program, in the wake of the Great Depression. The bathhouse, picnic shelter, and the two restroom facilities are all original CCC buildings. The dam is also an original structure that was built by hand. The CCC enrollees worked around the clock using simple tools and wheelbarrows to transport cement to the area.
During World War II, Green Pastures was closed. The Forest Service utilized this time to make improvements and expand the area. It reopened in 1948 for public use. Also in 1948, the James River Ranger District was formed and administration of Green Pastures was transferred to the George Washington National Forest. In 1950 when the military integrated its forces, Green Pastures became available to all people regardless of race. On April 26th, 1963, The name Green Pastures was officially changed to Longdale Recreation Area, using the name of the well-known Longdale community near the park entrance to welcome all. To this day, however many people still refer fondly to the area as Green Pastures.
Park and Trails Longdale Recreation Area (Green Pastures) is for day use only Four of the many hiking trails in the James River Ranger District are accessible from Longdale Recreation Area. Anthony’s Knob Trail is a 4.5 mile loop trail that begins at the intersection of FDR 271 and FDR 217A. Blue Suck Run Trail is a 1.7 mile long trail that begins at the last parking area of Longdale Recreation Area, and ends at the intersection of FDR 271A. Yaccr’s Run Trail is a 2.2 mile loop trail also accessible from the recreation area. Parking is available near the trailhead. North Mountain Trail is a 9.5 mile long trail that can be accessed at the first parking area in Longdale Recreation Area. All four of these trails are considered difficult.
As you walk the trails of the Longdale (Green Pastures) Area, you will enjoy many breathtaking sites. Rhododendron is thick in places, and in the spring the wildflowers offer visitors to the forest a spectacular show of color and scent. The trails cross slow moving streams from which deer, turkey and occasionally bears drink during the hot summer months. Many different species of birds enjoy making their home in the pines and oaks along the ridges. Rock cliffs and ridgetops are visible from several areas along the trails.
Remember your camera as you plan your trip to Green Pastures at Longdale. At dusk, when the children are being packed up to take home after a full day of fun and sun at Green Pastures, many people say they can still hear the laughter of children and young adults of days gone by. As you enjoy the shade that the trees offer, imagine the days when young men from all over the country came to help build a special place called “Green Pastures.”
Editor’s note: Want to learn about the African American experience from the arrival of the first Africans in 1619 to present day? Mark your calendar for the Determined: The 400-year Struggle for Black Equality exhibition.