New Again

Amanda Muise

Amanda Muise

By Amanda Muise

Development Officer, Clean Air-Cool Planet

For my birthday last month, my boyfriend Dan bought me a season pass to the Massachusetts State Parks system.  He chose this gift with a very specific purpose in mind: I recently relocated from Norwalk, a small city on the Connecticut coastline, to western Massachusetts, and Dan was hoping that a pass to some of the area’s lake beaches would help make up for the loss of Norwalk’s beautiful Calf Pasture Beach.

A golden ticket to spend the summer sitting in a beach chair with my toes in a lake reading Us Weekly would have been birthday present enough – but of course the parks pass also provides free access to hiking, bike trails, fishing and more.  In the few weeks since my birthday, we’ve visited no less than seven State Parks – sometimes two in one weekend.  Highlights so far: the basalt cliffs of Mount Tom, which put me at eye level with peregrine falcons and parasailers alike; the summit house atop Mount Holyoke, complete with restored guest rooms and a view to Hartford from the wraparound porch; and of course Lake Wyola, a worthy (and jellyfish-free) substitute for the Long Island Sound.

These and the other parks we’ve visited all have one thing in common: Much of their infrastructure – including things like roads, hiking trails, dams, campsites, and picnic shelters – was created during the Great Depression, as part of a New Deal program called the Civilian Conservation Corps.

I learned this by reading a very interesting signboard at Wendell State Forest – whenever I see one of those signs, I invariably make a beeline for it, since you can bet that it’s got some worthwhile information, cool vintage photography or at the very least some humorous graffiti.  Anyway, according to this sign, the Civilian Conservation Corps was created to provide jobs for the unemployed, particularly veterans, in the years between 1933 and 1942.  Nearly 100,000 men in Massachusetts alone participated in the CCC, living in 68 camps across the state and creating the bones of a State Park system out of 170,000 acres of cutover land and inaccessible wilderness.  The Massachusetts CCC planted more than 12 million trees, earning the nickname “Roosevelt’s Tree Army.” They improved existing forests through selective thinning, firefighting, and pest control and created an infrastructure of roads, campsites, and support buildings that are, in many cases, still in use today.

The story of the Civilian Conservation Corps is particularly fascinating in light of the recession we are facing today – because many climate activists and organizations, including Clean Air-Cool Planet, consider the new generation of “green jobs” to be a vital part of both economic and environmental recovery.  Today’s green jobs tend to be clean, safe, skilled positions in brand-new, fast-growing industries like renewable energy, carbon accounting or sustainable construction.  The green jobs created by the CCC were perhaps a little more rough-around-the-edges – Corps members lived in tents or barracks, contending with New England weather, local wildlife, and the dangers inherent in activities like felling trees – but the twin objectives of the program were ones we would do well to fulfill today.  In the short-term: Generate new jobs to improve the economy and help struggling Americans feed their families.  In the long-term: Build a new infrastructure that will help our country realize its goals of environmental protection and stewardship.

Although the CCC has since been dissolved, its spirit lives on in the Department of the Interior’s recent allocation of $50 million to create a twenty-first century Youth Conservation Corps.  The new Corps is intended to “build an ethic for environmental protection” by providing young people with conservation training and increased access to outdoor activities.  In its turn, this announcement has galvanized non-profit organizations across the country to develop their own related initiatives: For example, the Santa Fe-based Earth Works Institute is establishing the Climate Change Conservation Corps (4C) to train young adults between the ages of 17 and 27 in five career pathways focused on mitigating the effects and reversing the causes of climate change.  And of course, regular readers of this blog are probably already aware of Clean Air-Cool Planet’s own Climate Fellowship program.

Education and professional development opportunities like these will be crucial to realizing a new green economy and effecting a fundamental change in the way we think about natural resources and energy.  If we are still reaping the benefits of the current green jobs revolution 75 years from now – just as today Dan and I can enjoy a State Parks system dating back as early as 1933 – we will know that the movement has been a success.

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One Comment on “New Again”

  1. Jeff Says:

    When I was a little kid, I was always fascinated by the picturesque stone walls and steps at state parks and campgrounds that dated from the CCC days. I still like to see them, though they are pretty well crumbled now 50 years on. I would love to see a modern day CCC to restore some of these projects.

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