The Re-Wilding of Waterloo
their land altogether. During that tragedy the seeds of a future crop were planted: these days, half a million people visit the Waterloo Recreation Area each year to fish, hunt, swim, hike, and ski.
As part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) began purchasing neglected farmland across the country in 1934. A year later, the FERA was consolidated with other relief organizations into the Resettlement Administration. One division of the newly formed agency focused on converting underutilized and unprofitable lands into forests, game preserves, recreational parks, and organized camping areas. The agency was most interested in large tracts of land, between 5,000 and 20,000 acres, within a half-day's drive of large population centers. Offering inner-city and low-income families opportunities for outdoor activities was central to its mission--along with providing temporary employment for the hundreds of workers who would turn abandoned farms back into woodlands.
By the time the program was transferred to the National Parks Service in 1936, forty-six projects were under way in twenty-four states. Two were in Michigan: the Yankee Springs Recreation Area, between Battle Creek and Grand Rapids in Barry County, and the Waterloo Recreation Area in western Washtenaw and eastern Jackson counties.