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Young North Carolinians Could Benefit from Reviving Depression-Era Program

The Civilian Conservation Corps helped build the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. (Adobe Stock)
The Civilian Conservation Corps helped build the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. (Adobe Stock)
June 4, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The nationwide youth unemployment rate is the highest it's been since the Great Depression, and some are calling for creating a new Civilian Conservation Corps to help rebuild the country's parks and public lands at a time of national crisis.

Manley Fuller, vice president of conservation policy for the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, says from 1933 until 1942, the relief program employed more than 14,000 young people.

"If you've ridden on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and you've gone in those tunnels, and you've seen the stonework along the Blue Ridge Parkway, much of that was done by CCC labor and skill, but they also worked around the state, they had a number of camps," he points out.

Fuller says an updated public works program could help young North Carolinians learn new skills.

During its nine-year run, the Civilian Conservation Corps employed more than 3 million workers nationwide.

Fuller also notes North Carolina's park system, which is saddled with a more than $437 million backlog of maintenance and repairs, could reap the benefits of a statewide CCC, and he says a modern-day CCC could boost the state's flood-resiliency efforts.

"There's work that could be done along the coast, promoting habitat restoration, living shorelines, helping put in oyster reefs," he states. "There could be work with post-storm recovery, because there will be more storms. "

Collin O'Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, says a new CCC could offer jobs in outdoor recreation, agriculture, forestry and ranching to rural and Native American youth, and young people of color -- all of whom are being hit hard with unemployment.

"It's one of those solutions that actually solves 15 different public policy priorities all at once," he states. "And I mean, I'd argue it's as close to an economic recovery silver bullet as is out there right now."

O'Mara says there's no shortage of work to be done. Across the country, 80 million acres of national forests need rehabilitation, and a half million abandoned coal and hard rock mines need reclamation.

Disclosure: North Carolina Wildlife Federation contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC