A recreation of a Civilian Conservation Corps shelter on a CCC-built Trail of Time behind the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center on Friday, June 12, 2020. With high unemployment due to COVID-19, the New Deal program is providing a model for state and local work programs. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

A recreation of a Civilian Conservation Corps shelter on a CCC-built Trail of Time behind the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center on Friday, June 12, 2020. With high unemployment due to COVID-19, the New Deal program is providing a model for state and local work programs. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

New New Deal? City announces jobs program

Federally funded work program will put Juneauites to work building trails

The City and Borough of Juneau announced it’s accepting applications for a trail-maintenance work program modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s.

With a significantly reduced tourist season and large numbers of normally seasonal workers looking for a job, putting those people to work on already needed maintenance projects seemed like a natural solution, according to Max Mertz, co-chair of the Juneau Economic Stabilization Task Force. The CBJ Assembly voted to remove $300,000 for trail maintenance from this year’s budget at their June 10, meeting after Mertz presented the idea for the work program at a previous meeting.

Because the new program directly addresses people who lost their jobs because of COVID-19, it can be paid for using federal relief money. Juneau will receive roughly $53 million in CARES Act funding by October, but most of that money has been allocated for first-responder and other COVID-related staff salaries. So far, the city has allocated $1 million for a pilot program, but Mertz said there’s more to come.

The program was inspired by the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps, which put young people to work building trails, cabins and other outdoor recreation facilities across the country. In Alaska, the CCC also employed Alaska Native carvers to restore or create totem poles. Facilities and works of art built by the CCC remain in use today both in Juneau and throughout Alaska.

[Assembly votes for no tax hike and a reduced budget]

“Times have changed but we’re operating on that notion of putting people to work building things and improving things,” Mertz said. “That was a great model that was left by the Depression.”

Juneau’s program is being coordinated by the city Department of Parks and Recreation, Eaglecrest and Trail Mix, Inc. all of which have worked with the task force to develop the program.

The task force wants to expand the work program to jobs for those who can’t meet the physical requirements of working on a trail crew, and had reached out to local non-profit organizations to try and expand into social services.

While Juneau’s program is already taking applications, some lawmakers and outdoor industry groups are calling for a statewide program. The Alaska Outdoor Alliance wrote a letter to the state’s Congressional delegation requesting federal funding for work programs across the state endorsed by a large number of business owners and local politicians including Juneau’s Legislative delegation, Mayor Beth Weldon, CBJ Assembly member Greg Smith and the Juneau Economic Development Corporation.

“It’s designed to be primarily partnerships between existing companies which already have competitive bid contracts,” Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, said of the statewide program.

The state has a backlog of deferred maintenance projects, Kiehl said, and the extra workforce could tackle those while also working on new projects to enhance the outdoor experience all while employing people in need of work.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.

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