On Maui, solutions for today's problems can often be found in the past. The May 12 story in The Maui News about the Civilian Conservation Corps was a peek at the past with hints for the future.
The CCC was set up as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" attack on the Great Depression. A companion program was the Works Progress Administration, renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration. Both programs were designed to provide meaningful work for America's unemployed.
On Maui, the WPA put salaries in the pockets of the island's unemployed while improving public infrastructure such as sidewalks in Makawao, bridges, roads and improvements to the trail up to Polipoli. As was the rest of the country, Maui was hard-hit by the Great Depression.
In areas such as East Maui, families could subsist by hunting, fishing and growing food, but there was still a need for kala, cash. There are old-timers who can remember how the few federally subsidized jobs could be spread around for maximum effect. It's been said that as many as three men might share one job, each doing a third of the work and taking a third of the money.
The WPA was for adult breadwinners. The CCC was designed for young men who concentrated on, as the name implied, conservation. The May 12 story had to do with Arthur "Rex" Ornellas and his six-month stint working at Haleakala National Park. In 1985, William Kealoha Kanekoa told The Maui News about living near the top of Haleakala at "Camp Wingate" as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
"We had some 30-odd boys at the old rest house. Some stayed in the crater in tents. Two stayed up at the observatory and took care of the tourists," said the man who would later become one of the first residents of "Dream City" and was the last locomotive engineer to drive a train from Haiku to Kahului.
Kanekoa remembered working on the cabins in the crater, hand-carrying lumber and ceiling panels. "Most of the stuff was carried in by the boys." There were pack animals but they were reserved "for bags of cement and heavy stuff." He remembered being paid $38 a month. "Thirty-two dollars a month was sent home and we were given $6" for pocket money.
Kanekoa worked on the top of the mountain for "about three years" before being transferred to Polipoli to plant trees. "I remember planting the pines, plums, American peach, apples and ash trees." For fun, the boys chased wild horses and goats or hiked up to the top of the mountain via the Skyline Trail.
After his three-plus years with the CCC, Kanekoa found work at the Kahului Railroad, cleaning and maintaining the steam locomotives. He eventually became a locomotive engineer and was able, with the help of the railroad's manager, Buster Burnett, to buy a house in Kahului's First Increment for $6,600. The railroad put up the down payment, leaving the Kanekoa family with a $42-a-month mortgage.
Kanekoa and fireman Steven DePonte operated the last cargo-passenger train run on May 28, 1966. Trucks had made the railroad uneconomical. The railroad's public bus system ended around the same time. Forty-eight years later, Maui's most visionary leaders believe a light-rail train system, paired with the county's buses, is the most likely solution to the island's cross-island traffic.
Stories about the CCC instantly bring to mind today's need for troops to battle invasive species such as fireweed, miconia, fire ants, deer and other pests. As recently as 2001, there was such a workforce. In response to the radical drop in tourism following the Sept. 11 attacks, the state Legislature appropriated $1.5 million to create an emergency environmental workforce.
On Maui, that meant some 50 workers who were available when dengue fever appeared in East Maui. The workforce was administered by an office at the University of Hawaii. The workers, mostly young men with deep ties to the land, methodically eliminated places where fever-carrying mosquitoes could breed.
When the money ran out, the emergency environmental workforce was abandoned. The need for such an agency exists today. Last year, the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization reported natural resource work brings an estimated $456.6 million to the state's economy each year.
Today's environmental problems, including threats to water supplies and visitor satisfaction, have been around for decades. So have the solutions.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.