Why the Civilian Conservation Corps Should be Restablished

by Ronald C. Weston

Last month I was reminded of the impressive accomplishments of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) while touring California National Parks. The CCC was a public works program that operated from 1933 to 1942 as part of FDR’s New Deal. It provided manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state and local governments. The American public made the CCC the most popular of all the New Deal programs.

I believe that the CCC model aligns well with the 21st Century triple bottom line movement.

  • For the People, the Civilian Conservation Corps offered positive social outcomes. The 2.5 million unemployed young men who participated developed skills and helped improve the communities where their camps worked. Enrollment in the CCC also improved corps members’ physical condition and morale.
  • For the Planet, the CCC volunteers planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America and also enhanced public awareness and appreciation of the outdoors and natural resources.
  • For Profit and betterment of the economy, the CCC provided 300,000 jobs at a given time to unemployed men, which helped stimulate the depression-era economy. The program also enhanced skills, which increased employability. Further, the Corps work represented long-term investment in the natural and man-made infrastructure at more than 800 parks across the nation.

Given the positive impact and success of the CCC, why not consider developing a similar program in 2011? As President Obama and Congress consider passage of a new jobs bill to stimulate employment, a new conservation corps could create jobs, develop the skills of unemployed young adults, and invest in much needed environmental infrastructure improvement. Stimulating the economy by investing in education, transportation infrastructure, and green energy all seem to have merit. However, developing a program like the CCC to improve and restore vital natural resources should not be overlooked. With many regions of the country still recovering from natural disasters, a new Corps could also help clean-up and restore damaged parks, trails and recreational facilities.

The list of prime candidates to participate in the modern day CCC program would include: unemployed high school graduates, unemployed recent college graduates, unemployed armed services veterans. By working together outdoors to create meaningful improvements, a group of citizens would reconnect with nature while they improve both rural and urban environments for all to enjoy for generations to come. Just as I was able to walk through forests planted by the original Corps back in the 1930’s, future generations could enjoy the legacy of improvements made by a new CCC.

So would you support a 21st Century Triple-C pilot program to invest in Triple-P?

Ronald C. Weston, AIA, LEED AP is a New Jersey-based architect and planner, and outdoor enthusiast.

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8 responses

  1. I am currently a crew supervisor for the California Conservation Corps. It’s hard to quantify the benefits that corps programs have (beyond what the article outlined) because the most valuable are measured by what is not impacted by corps members who would otherwise be unemployed in their typically underserved communities. I could share a thousand success stories that would inspire, invoke tears, and make you want to be a corpsmember yourself. There are few government programs that provide youth with transformational and self actualizing experiences, but the CCC is certainly one of them.
    A national corps program would give soul to what is often percieved as a heartless government. We have so few rites of passage in our modern society and none that inspire youth to civil participation the way working in our nation’s wilderness can. A national corps program would create hybrid American minds: minds that possess technological competence and ecological awareness–a little Daniel Boone meets Steve Jobs. The kind of mind that will usher in the beginning of a new, more sustainable human experience.

    1. First, thank you Ronald for the great article! To piggy back off of John’s comment, I work for The Corps Network, which is one of several modern efforts to promote the work of the CCCs in the form of less centralized Corps like the California Conservation Corps (which is one of our great members).

      In total, we represent 158 Corps in 46 states and the District of Columbia who carry on the legacy. Many of these Corps receive funding from Americorps, the federal funding stream that promotes the great idea of the CCCs in a broader context today. Still though, there is a division of Americorps called Americorps National Civilian Conservation Corps (NCCC).

      We would love to have you as a supporter Ronald! You can learn more at http://www.corpsnetwork.org


      Levi Novey
      The Corps Network

  2. Excellent article. It makes the point that, though not necessarily immediately, as far as private enterprises are concerned, improved national infrastructure and culture promote profits by creating an healthy social environment conducive to getting a decent ROE for every business.

  3. The skills that the CCC developed in the late 30’s were tranferrable to civilian jobs. Good paying civilian jobs require different skills today. How would a new CCC help the particpants learn skills that would help them get GOOD jobs? Or have I missed the whole point?

  4. It is a different age and different times. Without Army leadership, discipline, and character training, a new “CCC could never equal the original. But it could do a lot of good for our country and its youth. Over 6 billion trees were planted, and if you count L.E.M.s (local experienced men) and army personnel, it was over 3.5 million young men were employed by the CCC. It was a wonderful organization and did so much enduring good for out country and the patriotic men it produced. Become a member of the CCC Legacy http://www.ccc.legacy.org and help honor and promote the memory of the CCC.

  5. The CCC was a wonderful organization of nearly 3.5 million young men and L.E.M.s (local experienced men) who planted over 6 billion trees, fought forest fires, built roads and dams, and much more. But without Army command, any CCC now could never equal the original. Today, the CCC Legacy exists to honor and perpetuate the memory of the CCC.

  6. My father served in the CCC in Newton North Carolina during the Great depression.  I heard him say that all that he was in life was due to his experiences in the CCC.  I recall how happy he was when he went home on leave and saw how the money he earned in the CCC improved the lives of his family. 

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