What a fabulous hike I enjoyed today during my vacation in the San Juan Islands! It turns out that my day was made possible by Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Civilian Conservation Corps — the original “green jobs” program, and maybe the best.
My wife and I climbed to the top of 2,409-foot Mt. Constitution, the highest peak in the San Juans, in Moran State Park on Orcas Island. The views are spectacular, particularly from the top of a stone observation tower built on the summit in 1936 by the CCC. According to this brief online history,
Between 1933 and 1941, the CCC men build miles of trails, many buildings, and numerous other improvements in Moran State Park, which was donated to the state in 1921 by former Seattle mayor and shipbuilder Robert Moran (1857-1943).
The 5,252-acre park features five freshwater lakes and more than 30 miles of hiking trails, all built by the CCC.
Could we recreate the Civilian Conservation Corps today? I’ve been a skeptic about “green jobs” in general, and in particular about the claim that a cap-and-trade program to regulate greenhouse gases is an effective way to generate new jobs. I’m also not persuaded that the Department of Energy’s vast subsidies for clean energy are a smart way to create jobs, though they may be worthwhile for othe reasons.
But in the midst of this Great Recession, with unemployment still on the rise, the federal government could be putting a lot more people to work improving our national, state and local parks. (According to the non-profit journalism group Pro Publica, the stimulus package includes a little more than $700 million for the National Parks Service and another $300 million or so for the Bureau of Land Management. But these monies obviously don’t establish a dedicated work force of a young men and women, as FDR did.) Creating a new Civilian Conservation Corps would provide a boost to the jobless and the poor (many of those in the original military-style corps were homeless or malnourished), the new jobs would stimulate the economy and while, yes, all the money we spend now will have to be repaid with long-term borrowing, a contemporary corps would deliver lasting benefits to millions of Americans.
After all, as I saw today, parks built 70 years ago by the CCC continue to delight visitors. I have no doubt that they will continue to do so for many years to come.