Blast From The Past Makes Me Happy!!

On family excursions into nature–admittedly, not my strong suit, but hey! grandkids–I became aware of the lasting contributions of FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corp. That program not only offered employment to some three million Americans who had found themselves out of work during the Depression—it also built lasting improvements to the nation’s parks, roads and forests.

Workers enrolled in the CCC planted more than three billion trees. They paved 125,000 miles of highways, and built  3,000 fire lookouts.. Trails and structures from the Grand Canyon and the Pacific Coast Trail to the Smokey Mountains remain in use today.

According to The Guardian, Joe Biden has taken a leaf from the CCC–one of FDR’s most popular and successful efforts.

As part his recent climate policy spree, Biden announced the establishment of a “Civilian Climate Corps Initiative” that could harness the energy of the very generation that must face – and solve – the climate crisis by putting them to work in well-paying conservation jobs.

After Biden’s omnibus executive order, the heads of the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture and other departments have 90 days to present their plan to “mobilize the next generation of conservation and resilience workers”, a step toward fulfilling Biden’s promise to get the US on track to conserve 30% of lands and oceans by 2030.

This is exactly the sort of effort we need right now. Not only will this Civilian Climate Corp provide gainful and undeniably useful job opportunities at a time when the economy is reeling from COVID, not only will it provide training to young people who participate, not only will it be an important part of America’s response to climate change, but it will offer the demonstrable benefits that attend national public service programs.

This is far removed from “make work” programs. This CCC will work on projects that are clearly and substantively important. The article quotes Mary Ellen Sprenkel, head of the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps, for the range of issues such a Corp can address:

Far beyond just planting trees, a new conservation corps could pour money into tackling a bevy of other environmental problems, too. According to Biden’s website, projects will include working to mitigate wildfire risks, protect watershed health, and improve outdoor recreation access. Sprenkel thinks the effort could also include more activities at the community level, like urban agriculture projects and work retrofitting buildings to be more energy-efficient. And as Sprenkel pointed out, the federal government owns and manages thousands of buildings that need help to become more energy-efficient. The buildings “could even become sources of renewable energy generation with solar or wind power installations”, she added.

This reconstituted and reimagined CCC can and should provide apprenticeships and on-the-job education equipping participants for long-term employment. But even more important, at a time when Americans live in very different realities and occupy informational and residential “bubbles,” it will provide the democratic benefits offered by public service programs by bringing young people from widely different backgrounds together.

Back in 2014, I advocated for a new GI Bill that would require young people to enroll in a year of civil service between high school and college or trade school. Among the many benefits of such service would be an appreciation for the role of government; another benefit would be the experience of working with Americans from diverse backgrounds and communities. The original CCC was segregated by race and gender–realities that detracted from its otherwise positive influence. Biden’s CCC, to the contrary, would build non-corporeal bridges along with the physical ones–and it would do so at a time when the bonds of citizenship have become deeply frayed.

My youngest grandson is currently taking a year with Americorp, and as I watch his progress, I can attest to the maturation and  flourishing–and cross-cultural understanding– that occurs in such programs.

I say three cheers for the three Cs!


  1. As a young child my Hoosier Papaw talked with me of his experience in CCC in Montana quite often as a great time for him!

  2. As I read your article I sat here, fingers poised, ready to fire off a comment about how the best deterrent for racism is getting acquainted with people you haven’t met before. I was so gratified to see you address the matter. Yes, a nationwide program like CCC could very well head off another disaster like the one we’re going through today before it happens.

    And that’s to say nothing of a very belated facing up to climate change.

    We’re running out of time on both fronts.

  3. At the risk of sounding like a flack, in my soon-to-be-released novel, “The Medalist”, I took the CCC model and combined it with aspects of the Marshall Plan to help renew our inner-cities as the unemployed denizens were taught the trade skills necessary to refurbish their own neighborhoods. You know, like restarting the concept of civic pride.

    I may be wrong, but I’ve always felt that novels with a good dose of social messaging were the most worthwhile.

  4. I can’t wait for the CCC to hit the doorsteps of Indiana. I am sure the Koch network is kicking into high gear to block their programs from entering this corrupt state.

    I spent a little time on Zoom with the Hoosier Environmental Council yesterday, and our CAFO problems in this state are getting worse. Senator Messmer, owned by Big Energy, Coal, and Corporate Farms, has a bill to literally make CAFOs immune from prosecution. They are close to that right now despite fouling our air, water, and land with manure/feces tea they produce. The CAFOs in Ohio pollute the Wabash River in Indiana and have killed the Grand Lake St.Marys in Celina. Maybe the CCC can clean up the largest lake in Ohio while the EPA clamps down further pollution.

    Quite frankly, I don’t see how the Indiana legislature is getting by with the crap they’ve been passing in Indianapolis.

    The CCC is a much-needed program and is a step in the right direction. I don’t think young people are our problem when it comes to race and environmental issues. They do have a resentment against the Boomer generation for some reason. 😉

    As I said, the CCC is just a good first step. We need to be bold with creating an economy that works for everybody, including our planet.

    I don’t know if you caught it, but the CEO for Go Fund Me appealed to our government in the USA Today about how many Americans have flocked to his platform to raise money for necessities. His platform is getting inundated while the federal government produces a show for the media to increase ad revenue.

  5. In 1978 I left school teaching to begin a 35 year career with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources as Director of the Youth Conservation Corps (Y.C.C.), a federally funded work-study program for 15-18 year old youth. There were both resident and non-resident camps throughout the country and Y.C.C. was one of the most cost-effective programs the federal government had in effect at the time. The quality of work that these young men and women were able to accomplish with the guidance of their adult crew leaders was truly amazing. Sadly, federally funding ended for the program in the early 1980’s. But throughout my career, I met many people in leadership positions with various companies and organizations throughout the U.S. who had been Y.C.C. workers in their teen years. Every one of them expressed that Y.C.C. had been a significant influence during those formative years. I hope President Biden’s new CCC program goes as well.

  6. I very much support the idea of service for post high school students. After they complete two years of service, they should get tuition and fees to any participating college or university for four years. No free college, but an earned education. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

  7. How about a “triple play”? Train and do climate change mitigation and infrastructure together?

  8. I grew up a few miles from the Indiana Dunes State Park – a splendid park on Lake Michigan with many miles of walking trails, a beautiful beach and pavilion. A hotel on the beach, and an inn in a wooded area. And there were the green barracks where the Civilian Conservation Corps had stayed while they were constructing this wonderful park that served local people as as well as people from Chicago and all over. I think renewal of a similar program is a great idea for the participants and the greater good of the country.

  9. I really love the idea of a conservation corp. Hmm conservative and conservation. Those 2 words come from the same linguistic base. You would think conservatives would want to save the earth.

    We camped out when I was a kid because my parents could not afford motel rooms for 5 kids. Littering from the car was absolutely forbidden.

    I can imagine hundreds of youth planting trees in California and in communities of poverty. I can imagine Future Farmers joining the CCC to create sustainable systems of farming.

    And then I can imagine the CCC workers creating systems of clean water for those who don’t have access to clean water.

    I love it Shiela that for once we have something positive to talk about!

  10. It makes me happy, too! Please, everyone, help me stay alert to what it will take to help this program actually happen. It will meet resistance.

  11. Sheila’s topic for the day takes me back to my youth. I was born within sight of a strip coal mine in southwestern Indiana. My father was a coal miner. Large draglines dug the overlay (dirt) from the coal veins and left hills of dirt and slate coal residues (called spoil banks). The coal was mined, leaving pits, which filled with water, sometimes as deep as 60 feet. It was an ideal place for kids like me in the 30s to swim, and with the Depression in full swing and nothing else to do we poverty-stricken kids would jump off what we called “high walls” while idling away the summers in “the pit,” sometimes eating blackberries for lunch. Blackberries were sold for 10 cents a gallon; tomatoes 75 cents a bushel. Peaches were outrageous, a dollar to a dollar and a quarter a bushel! If you think inflation is bad, try deflation!

    There was a CCC “camp” in the area and those young CCC members would often come over by the truckload (like cattle) to go swimming and clean up after a day’s work, bringing bars of soap with them. We played “turtle tag” with these young workers and had fun running over the spoil banks and jumping off the high walls. These young CCC workers were engaged in planting trees in the square miles of spoil banks left by strip mine companies. Later in the spring after WW II started and while in high school we juniors and seniors also planted trees in the spoil banks for the magnaminous sum of 25 cents an hour.

    FDR’s CCC was great, and so was his WPA. Many of the Bedford limestone buildings on the IU campus in Bloomington were built by the WPA, thus providing employment to stonecutters in nearby Bedford as well as the WPA builders in the midst of a hair-raising depression. Republicans of that day were up in arms with such “socialistic” practices of using deficit gummint financing for FDR’s ventures (even though approved by Keynes) and even though MovieTone News was showing marches by men in uniform in New York City openly brandishing swastikas and hammers and sickles. Truth be told, that “socialist” saved capitalism, a system that many thought had failed and who became open to more authoritarian systems – like that of a Hitler or a Stalin then in vogue.

    These gummint programs of FDR worked beyond the physical, i.e., the roads, dams, buildings, reforestation etc. They also made for a sense of “doing something for the country,” and, of course, these “CCC boys” were among the first to later volunteer in the armed forces in WW II as a result.

    Patriots are made, not born, so in the spirit of “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” and having seen these Rooseveltian ideas work in real time, I hope Biden’s CCC plan comes to legislative fruition.

  12. Todd, makes an excellent point concerning factory farms and their polluting ways. There needs to be some strict science EPA rules and regulations on factory farms and coal ash. Leaving protecting the environment up to the states has failed. No more Flint Michigan type of poisoning either.

    Sending people out on a CCC mission is just half the job. Perhaps while Biden is at it, he can reinstall the solar panels on the White House.

  13. I am very glad to hear of this new effort!
    I was born too late for the original CCC, and too early for the new one, probably as is the case for most on this blog. But, in other circumstances, I would join this program asap. Planting trees, helping to conserve land, “working to mitigate wildfire risks, protect watershed health, and improve outdoor recreation access,” would put me in the category of those who enjoy their work so much it’s not work.
    I am currently involved in several volunteer efforts within the context of my local Audubon group, such as monitoring eagle nests, monitoring a Wilderness park’s lake for several endangered species of birds, and getting ready for this season’s monitoring of eastern bluebird nesting boxes.
    Sadly, as you pointed out, the original CCC was segregated, and that reminds me that FDR, for all his marvelousness, played quit a part in creating segregation in housing, back in the day. In “The Color of Law…,”by Richard Rothstein, he explains how FDR helped to destroy integrated neighborhoods, and build segregated housing.

  14. Greetings. I grew up on a farm in Dearborn Co. during the 1930s. I was too young (1929) to join the CCC but I do remember several young men joining the CCC. The program was large. One of those boys volunteered and went to the Panama Canal Zone. That is how large it was. When we were big enough our father put us to work doing necessary jobs on the farm. There was no rural electricity until after the 2nd WW and very few farm tractors so it was horse farming for most.
    and on and on and on 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

  15. You’re all invited to ‘See Tennessee’, especially the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) in East Tennessee and western North Carolina. The state is dotted with places, roads, and improvements by the CCC and the WPA (ex: Cedars of Lebanon State Park in Lebanon, TN, in the midstate area just east of Nashville along I-40). Y’all come!

  16. I agree that FDR’s ‘socialism’ saved capitalism. Our economy had failed millions of citizens who were ripe for demagoguery and desperate for positive change. Germany succumbed to a Hitler and his fascist economy. We were incredibly fortunate that no Hitler-type candidate ran or won here.

    An old Chinese proverb says that crisis is a dangerous opportunity. Hitler understood that too well.

  17. Great points – I agree with the idea of a new CCC and mandatory service

    One note on “make work”. One project was to index public records. Was it “make work”? It had two effects that were felt much later. First, it “institutionalized the Soundex system of indexing names (Used in some states as part of a Drivers license number) and second, when genealogy became a popular hobby (beyond members of the LDS Church), it made it easy to get started, drawing more people in. The result is a 3 billion dollar industry. How much did all of that indexing contribute? I don’t know, but I would bet that it is a lot more than the cost of hiring those people.

    I am happy that Sheila has emphasized the long term benefits of CCC. We need to look at the long term a lot more than we currently do.

  18. My father-in-law, John J. Waldron of Plainfield, NJ enlisted in CCC and came to the West Coast where he planted trees in the Berkeley Hills and witnessed the building of the bridges. When he returned to visit us in the 1980s, he proudly pointed out his contributions.`

  19. “Among the many benefits of such service would be an appreciation for the role of government”

    That’s a risky tack to take…

  20. The human condition needs common ground to plant seeds of decency and civility. Thank you Shelia for providing a plot in which to do so…

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