I’m such a geek. This week, I’m headed to the legendary Red Rocks Park 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 the 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 in Colorado is strong because the state got 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 projects was Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, tucked in the foothills just west of Denver, where those first schists of 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, $25 of which they had to send home to their parents. The work was not glamorous at Red Rocks, or most anywhere else the hard labor brought the men. But it was steady, and workers felt a strong sense of pride 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. 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.
Images: Wikimedia Commons