Notes From Shenandoah

20150524_201353 For how long has travelling been a thing in America? Who built those wonderful roads in national parks? I found an answer to this and a few more questions at the museum of the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

When Did America Start Taking To The Roads?

People in America regularly, and with great ease, travel hundreds of miles to places over even as short a period as a weekend, and this is something that rubs off very easily on desis.

The American habit of taking road trips was born as early as the 1920s, when people were starting to have lots of free time, and car manufacturing stepped up.

As these exhibits told me:

“By 1920, more Americans lived in cities than in rural areas, the overwhelming majority of them in the East. As the nation prospered, a growing middle class, with increased leisure time, and affordable mass-produced cars, took to the roads in record numbers.”

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The American MNREGA

In the 1930s, in response to the Great Depression in America, the Congress, under the then president Franklin D. Roosevelt, started a series of reform programs. One of these was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Many in India consider its Indian counterpart, MNREGA, a waste of money and resources.

CCC was a way of the government to provide employment to the hundreds of thousands of young men without jobs. The purported benefits of this program also included physical fitness and employability.

Shenandoah is the only national park in America I have been to so far, but its infrastructure impressed me. The scenic Skyline Drive, and all the road signs, the lookout points and facilities that accompany it – these were all clearly the product of years of labour and planning by some sarkari department. This fact, that it was by a sarkari department, is what surprises me.

Now Shenandoah National Park became the first National Park to host these CCC camps.

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The Park’s master plan was drawn up in 1934, and consisted of “picnic grounds, gas stations, and waysides”. Cabins and recreational areas were also part of the plan. The CCC worked at implementing the master plan until 1942, when WWII started.

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CCC work wasn’t limited to building roads and bridges, apparently. The boys had night classes in reading, arithmetic and vocational skills like radio maintenance.

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The CCC never really died. All the American Corps programs are essentially extensions of the CCC.

It’s Not All Organic

The Shenandoah National Park wasn’t an already existing natural resource that was simply cordoned off and preserved. To build the park, plenty of lives were affected. Farmlands were confiscated, lawsuits unfairly won. Residents were relocated, but dissatisfaction and resentment were not unheard of. One guy waged a 6-year battle to be able to keep his property. At the end of it, he was literally kicked out of his land.

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