We get to walk on trails blazed by those who came before us.
May 1933: 200 young men arrived at Cape Perpetua, a wild, untamed spot on the rugged Oregon Coast. President Roosevelt, as part of the New Deal legislation of his first 100 days, had just established the Civilian Conservation Corps. It’s mission: provide jobs for unemployed young men to support their families while preserving the richness of America’s natural resources for all to enjoy. During the nine years of its existence, the CCC employed over three million young people and helped keep their families afloat. The 200 at the wild outpost of Cape Perpetua turned it into a magnificent park accessible to everyone.
July 2013 (80 years later): I see a man in front of me, about my age, in a National Park Ranger uniform.
I’m walking on a forest trail along a flowing stream from the Cape Pepetua Camp Ground to the Visitors’ Center. The trail is covered with dry cedar fronds. Although the temperature inland will be in the 90s today, the morning air in this coastal forest is cool and clean.
Walking crisply, the ranger pauses every once in a while, ever so briefly, to snip a cluster of leaves or wildflowers, placing them in a little basket as he continues walking.
I greet him and ask what he’s doing.
“Preparing today’s plant exhibit,” he says. “We have a new one everyday. You’ll see it at the Visitors’ Center.” He explains that when people, especially kids, see fresh samples of various forest plants together with the pictures & descriptions, the educational impact is much greater. The kids feel more connected to the forest, more curious about it. They ask questions.
I ask him about his job. “I’m a volunteer,” he says. “Four or five days most weeks.”
“You’re retired, right?” I say. “You can spend your time any way you want. Why spend it working here?”
“I grew up nearby,” he says. “My father was here when the kids from the CCC created this park. For me it’s always been like my own back yard. How can I not take care of it?”
Later I’ll be hiking north on a forest ridge trail with magnificent views of the coast. I’m grateful to the generation of Americans who provided the values, commitment and resources in one of our country’s darkest hours, to pay their young people to blaze these trails.
It’s a different time today. America’s commitment to those values is very much in question. So I’m grateful to this ranger and the many others like him who are volunteering, stepping forward on their own to keep those values alive.
Summer 2093 (80 years later): What will be the legacy of our generation? When our grandchildren and great grandchildren are looking for trails to lead them to the beauty and wonder of living on our planet in their time, what will they find? I hope we will leave them good trails.