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We Need a New Civilian Conservation Corps

March 18, 2016


This past week I spent three days in a casita at Elephant Butte State Park in New Mexico, a park that owes its existence to an activist federal government that created jobs for hundreds of unemployed youth in the 1930s. By today’s standards these “government workers” would be perceived as “takers”. But as the statue above indicates, the taxpayers in New Mexico have a different perspective, in large measure because the Civilian Conservation Corps built roads, cabins (or “casitas” as they are called now), campsites, and executed park designs developed by “government bureaucrats”. We stayed in one of the casitas built in 1940 that was sturdy, warm, and nestled into a cliffside overlooking the lake surrounding the namesake butte.


The lake. like the park and the casita, was funded by “the government” in 1910. Elephant Butte Dam created the lake. It blocks the Rio Grande River to provide a regulated stream of water for southern New Mexico, Mexico, and Texas and it was built by contractors funded by the federal government before income taxes existed.


But the glory days of government projects seems to be past. A few years ago the State of New Mexico decided it was too costly to maintain the parkland with it’s winding roads, aging casitas and campgrounds, and requisite staff and so they voted to bulldoze all of the properties near the dam site. Some local residents fought the decision and stopped the leveling of many of the buildings and are now facing the daunting task of doing the work on their own with money they earn by managing marinas on the lake and private donations. At the same time, New Mexico youth, unable to find work, are turning to drugs like meth to escape from the hopelessness and despair they face and the state is spending millions on treatment, law enforcement, and medical care while allowing historical structures and recreational lands to decay.

The infrastructure needs at Elephant Butte State Park are typical of hundreds of parks across the country… and the drug epidemic is hardly unique to New Mexico…. and the solution is obvious: a new Civilian Conservation Corps would provide gainful employment and hope to thousands of young Americans who are seeking work and thousands of middle aged managers who are navigating the transition from our manufacturing economy to whatever economy is emerging in its place. This should be on the table for discussion in 2016… we should be rebuilding our infrastructure instead of building walls.



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