This poster was presented at A Century of Design in the Parks Symposium, Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 21-23, 2016.
By Harvey Smith
The National Park Service (NPS) now faces a staggering $11.5 billion maintenance deficit. By contrast, in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the NPS experienced a period of major construction and land conservation, thanks to the New Deal. This work was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). When the CCC was terminated in 1942, a total of 2 million enrollees had performed work in 198 CCC camps in 94 national park and monument areas and 697 camps in 881 state, county, and municipal areas. The NPS also played a major role in the improvement and development of state parks nationwide, through their administration and supervision of CCC and WPA crews.
This presentation will briefly describe the contribution of the CCC and WPA and compare it with the current relatively feeble magnitude of the AmeriCorps program. During the New Deal nearly 3 million young men build functional yet beautiful infrastructure and planted 3 billion trees in federal, state and county parks and federal lands throughout the nation. Today AmeriCorps employs only 82,000 in the face of a tremendous need for infrastructure repair and employment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in July 2015 that the number of unemployed youth 16 to 24 years old had increased to 20.3 million. Add to this the grim fact that homicide ranks among the top three causes of death for youth. An expanded AmeriCorps program is not only needed for parks but as a lifesaving alternative for young people. Surprisingly given the level of youth unemployment and youth violence, funding of AmeriCorps has been controversial.
How can the NPS assist in dealing with its crumbling infrastructure and with the plight of young people in America? The NPS should increase its efforts to interpret the remarkable history of the CCC and WPA in the parks. Presently interpretation efforts are uneven, some parks do a thorough job, others do little or next to nothing to celebrate the CCC and WPA contributions. These interpretation efforts are seemingly not coordinated or encouraged at a national level. Greater efforts during this centennial year would be entirely appropriate to the NPS’s initiative encouraging people to discover the meaning of national parks and to inspire “people to both experience and become devoted to these special places.” Educated park visitors can become advocates for what could be a win-win solution for both parks and America’s youth, contributing to a popular groundswell of support for the NPS and AmeriCorps.
Harvey Smith is project advisor to the Living New Deal and board president of the National New Deal Preservation Association. He is author of the Arcadia Publishing book Berkeley and the New Deal. He was co-curator of the 2010 exhibit “The American Scene: New Deal Art, 1935-1943” at the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek, CA and curator of the 2011 exhibit “Art and Activism: The New Deal’s Legacy Around the Bay” at the Canessa Gallery in San Francisco. He received a B.A. in English and master of public health degree from U.C. Berkeley and has worked as an educator, public health worker and researcher, radio journalist, horse rancher and union carpenter.