from Renewing America

Good Jobs and Good Works: Time for a New Civilian Conservation Corps

Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood, a Civilian Conservation Corps project (Courtesy Oregon State University Archives).

February 3, 2012

Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood, a Civilian Conservation Corps project (Courtesy Oregon State University Archives).
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If I had a billion dollars to spend, I can think of no better way to do it than what the Obama administration plans to include in its upcoming budget: a new Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that will employ about 20,000 jobless veterans to build trails and shelters, reduce invasive species in our national parks and forests, and otherwise do useful work that would never get done any other way.

I admit to a selfish bias here; my pleasure in life has been greatly enhanced by the legacy of the Depression-era CCC. Most of my vacations with my wife and kids have been spent camping and hiking in the National Parks and forests across the United States (and Canada). And almost everywhere we go we have benefited from the legacy of Roosevelt’s CCC. The projects we have enjoyed range from the spectacular--the magnificent hiking trails along the flanks of Mt. Rainier, or the stunning Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood--to the utilitarian such as the hiker shelters along the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail (and no I have not hiked the whole thing, only selected bits).

Much of the Appalachian Trail itself, the most famous footpath in the country, was built by CCC workers during the Depression, as was the panoramic Blue Ridge Parkway which we and thousands of others drive to access the trail each year. And we have stumbled across the legacy of the CCC in far less famous areas. In the winters, for instance, we have several times gone camping in the beautiful Florida State Parks. In almost every one of these parks, there are trails, bridges, swimming pools, cabins, and other amenities that were built in the 1930s and continue to be used today. I would encourage readers to share their own stories about CCC projects in the comments, because there are doubtless many of them that I know nothing about.

So, to be clear about my biases, I would support a new CCC whether or not there was an unemployment crisis among young people in this country. But the Obama proposal goes one better because it calls for hiring in the new CCC up to 20,000 recent veterans. The unemployment rate among young veterans, at 13.1 percent, is scandalously high, and in real terms probably higher still because many have given up looking for work.. These are individuals who risked their lives overseas for their country, and have come back home to an economy that has no place for them. A new CCC program would provide them decent work at decent pay to help to help make life more pleasant for millions of Americans. What’s not to like? And if the Congress wants to find offsets, I'm happy suggest many places in the budget where $1 billion would not be spent nearly as well.

I would actually favor a much bigger CCC program, one that included refurbishing inner city parks, building and renovating playgrounds, planting trees in urban neighborhoods and in countless other ways improving the quality of life in this country. But this plan would be  an excellent place to start. I hope my grandchildren will enjoy the results for many years, much as my life has been enriched by the legacy of my grandfather's generation.

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