Nationwide, the youth unemployment rate during the coronavirus pandemic is the highest it has 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.
Michael Butler, CEO of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, says from 1933 until 1942, paid volunteers in the Depression-era relief program built the Pickett Civilian Conservation Corps Memorial State Park in the Cumberland Mountains, and several other projects across the state.
“They made improvements to the Fiery Gizzard Trail, worked on the Smokies, they developed the Natchez Trace Parkway,” he points out. “They had 76,000 enrollees in Tennessee working on 17 state parks, back in those days.”
Since the pandemic began, Tennessee has seen its highest-ever unemployment rate of 14.7%, and Butler says an updated public works program could help many young people learn new skills. During its nine-year run, the Civilian Conservation Corps employed more than 3 million workers nationwide.
Tennessee is one of the most biologically diverse inland states — ranked second in freshwater fish species diversity, and fourth in amphibian diversity. Yet the state’s park system is saddled with an $82 million backlog of maintenance and repairs.
Photo: Civilian Conservation Corps members at a camp near Esco, Tenn. (Lewis Hine, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons)