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Crossroads of the Marine Corps


America's first intelligence agency linked to forest

21 Jul 2014 | Tiffiney Wertz

For six years, from 1936-1942, disadvantaged children from around the Washington, D.C., area spent time at cabin camps tucked into the woods of the Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration area, known today as Prince William Forest Park.

The Chopawamsic RDA program was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide an escape from everyday life in the mist of the Great Depression, but the property was transformed into a secret military installation during World War II.

At that time, there was no single agency responsible for managing and investigating intelligence, and delicate topics were discussed amongst diplomats, soldiers and others in their day-to-day activities without regulation, according to a publication from the National Park Service. However, after the start of World War II in 1941, Roosevelt created the Office of Strategic Services, to implement a centralized system of strategic intelligence in the United States. The OSS lasted from 1942-1945 and became the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency.

Chopawamsic Park was selected by OSS director Col. Bill Donovan as the, “paramilitary training camp of the OSS’ Special Operations Branch” in 1942. Divided into five cabin camps, the Chopawamsic RDA served as a training camp to teach recruits about Morse code, communications, weaponry, psychological warfare, radio techniques and more prior to deploying overseas. Engineers also built a pistol and submachine gun range for recruits.

In the same publication, the National Park Service reported several surveys of the park land resulted in the, “removal of undetonated bullets or shells left behind by the OSS to create a safe environment for off trail hikers.”

Today, visitors can spend time in the forest exploring thousands of acres of nature or spend a night in one of the five cabin camps used during World War II. Annually Prince William Forest Park welcomes more than 250,000 visitors and is open daily from sunrise to sunset.

For information on the history of Prince William Park and the OSS,  visit

— Writer:

Marine Corps Base Quantico