[Note: After watching Robert Stone's excellent film last night on PBS' American Experience about the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), I was reminded how incredibly important the work done by the CCC has been for this country. I was also reminded of a piece I wrote last summer at Red, Green and Blue about one of the true icons built by the CCC - Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. And since it is festival season, I thought it appropriate to share some of that post with ecopolitology readers. -TH]
I’m such a geek. This week, I’m headed to the legendary Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado, for four sold-out nights of music from the Vermont-based band, Phish -- at what is arguably one of the greatest outdoor music venues in the United States, if not the world -- and I will, at some point or another, be thinking about FDR's New Deal.
That’s right, in the middle of some twenty-minute swirling, epic jam, my mind will undoubtedly stray a little and wonder about the millions of unemployed Americans that were employed during and after the Great Depression building thousands of roads, bridges, post offices, schools, dams and, well, amazing places like Red Rocks.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s so-called, “Alphabet Agencies”, like the Civil Works Administration, Public Works Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Works Progress Administration gave new strength to America’s infrastructure and put Americans back to work during the Great Depression.
The New Deal legacy in Colorado is so strong because the state received more per-capita federal dollars than any other except Washington. It ranked 10th among the 48 states in actual New Deal dollars spent. Among those many projects was Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, tucked in the foothills just west of Denver, where those first schists of red sandstone poke out of the earth signaling the beginning of the Rocky Mountains.
From 1936 to 1941 CCC and WPA workers put in long hours at the Red Rocks project in Morrison. Laboring in hot, dry, windy and rainy conditions, the men earned about $35 a month. And as all CCC men were required, $25 of that monthly salary was sent home to their parents.
The work was not glamorous at Red Rocks, or most anywhere else the hard labor brought the workers. But the work was steady. And the men were not only thankful they had a job, food and shelter, the men felt a strong sense of pride and that they were part of something that was much larger than themselves.
FDR’s New Deal projects employed a Keynesian approach to stimulating the economy, one centered on government investment. The New Deal stimulated the economy by getting money in the hands of people who would spend it — lots of people. But the CCC did so much more, it ultimately created opportunities for generations of people to interact with wide open spaces and the natural environment.
“In creating this Civilian Conservation Corps, we are killing two birds with one stone,” Roosevelt said during one of his first presidential radio addresses. “We are clearly enhancing the value of our natural resources, and second, we are relieving an appreciable amount of actual distress.”
Rather than merely “making work”, as so many critics like to say the New Deal did, it built its legacy on creating portals to the natural world that have brought tens of millions of people into the landscapes they could only read about before.
And if I’m a geek for thinking about that kind of stuff while in the middle of a wall of sound, light, and 9,400 rabid music fans, then so be it.
Photos: marabuch via flickr; Wikimedia Commons