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Where’s the CCC?

This past week, a rally was held in Albany to protest the planned closures of state parks. One Assemblyman was quoted by the Albany TU: “In my 34 years with the Legislature, I have never seen an issue that has resonated so much with the public. I am getting more mail on this issue than anything else.”

Some people concerned about the parks and the economy may be wondering, “There’s tons of people out of work these days — so why can’t the government put them to work repairing the infrastructure of the parks — the roads, bridges, bathhouses, trails and campsites?” They may be remembering the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the New Deal-era program that put 3 million Americans to work during the Great Depression on all kinds of outdoor projects, including many New York State parks which still show off their handiwork today. (This Flickr group has collected photos of all kinds of buildings created by the CCC.)

There’s no CCC any more, and last year’s federal stimulus measure did not create one. In New York, a newly created State Parks Conservation Corps received over $3 million in federal stimulus funds from the NY Department of Labor to put about 200 students – broken up into smaller groups and sent to different regions of the state — on trail maintenance work for several months last year. (This seems a far cry from the large camps of CCC guys who were working on infrastructure during the Depression.)

The State Parks student effort was overseen by the Student Conservation Association, a group which has been doing similar work nationwide for many years and is active in New York. While it’s good to know that groups like the SCA are around, when you look at a list of the places where the SCA is active, you’ll notice they mostly only work in the Adirondacks, Hudson Valley-Catskills, Albany and New York City metro regions. (Whether coincidentally or not, these just happen to be the regions where political power is concentrated in our state — or where the powers most often go to play.)

But it’s hard enough finding money to support even the park system’s dedicated employees, much less an emergency job corps, as blogger Norbrook points out in this must-read post: “Why would park people be grumpy?” Norbrook writes:

The problem with the way we’ve been treating our parks is that it never gets better. Another friend of mine who’s been running parks for a long time told me “I get through by thinking next year will be better. The problem is that next year is always worse.” For a very long time, park personnel have been dealing with failing infrastructure that never gets money to repair it, personnel cuts or hiring freezes, watching as money is shifted from one area to another in mid-year, and do the best they can with what they have. It’s a case of “the beatings will continue until morale improves” for them. It’s hard to remain upbeat over time, when things never seem to get better. Then the recession hits, and the state budget is being drastically cut. You find out it can get worse. Not only is the already inadequate funding cut, but you’re not even sure that your park will be open anymore.

…This year, if you notice the park staffs seem “grumpy” it’s because they are. They’re hitting a breaking point, and it’s becoming impossible to keep a cheery face to the public. They know that things aren’t going to get better for them. The effort to keep parks open is just one small part of what we should be advocating. We should also be advocating to make sure that they have the resources they need, and to prevent this from happening in the future.

{ 5 } Comments

  1. Norbrook | March 5, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Nice post, and thanks for the compliment! I saw a lot of people asking questions about the possibility of re-establishing a CCC last year during the debate over the stimulus. It’s a pity that there wasn’t funding.

    One of the things I fault Gov. Paterson for was the amount of money he left on the table, when it came to parks. There was $100 million in “shovel ready” projects for OPRHP, and not a dime was requested under the stimulus. I know DEC had several projects in the same category – includng finishing a campground that’s been under construction for years. Again, not a dime requested.

  2. Robinia | March 6, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    You are right on that, Norbrook. We have a parks project– a trail between Taughannock and Treman– that has been lagging for decades. Tried to put in for the stimulus funding under our transportation agency, because we were told that no parks projects would be considered….

    Thanks for this, and below, too, Ellen.

  3. Josh S | March 7, 2010 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    Well of course parks are ignored – if you can’t drive cars through them, they’re not considered to be the “infrastructure” that keeps the lifeblood of Chinese good and American commuters flowing.

    The City v. Tartaro v. State v. Northern Suburbs issue is a sadly wonderful example. The drivers decry Tartaro for asking for subsidies and grants for this building…all while assuming a 15 minute or less commute to North Syracuse is a Constitutional (or God) given right, no matter the billions of $$ of subsidies that went into building and that go into maintaining the federal highway infrastructure.

    When peak oil really sinks in, I hope our fellow residents that built in the swamps of Cicero (with much thanks to the likes of Bragman)…they appreciate how deeply all taxpayers subsidized their commutes!

  4. Ellen | March 7, 2010 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Fred Lebrun’s story in the Times Union this morning on public opposition to parks closures-

    http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=908652

    -and the effect of the current chaos in Paterson’s Albany on the parks situation.

  5. Sarah | March 23, 2010 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    I feel like the few things the parks DO charge for are underpriced. We went camping last summer at one of the state parks by Ithaca and I was super shocked that it was so cheap. I would have easily been willing to pay twice as much. I know that raising those prices doesn’t solve all the money woes, but it should help a little.