Why we need a 21st century conservation corps

Story highlights

  • An entire generation of Americans has disconnected from the outdoors and is less active, writers say
  • There's a growing, multibillion-dollar backlog of maintenance work piling up, they write

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, is a former superintendent of Denver Public Schools. John Bridgeland is co-chairman of the Franklin Project at The Aspen Institute and former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President George W. Bush. The views expressed are their own.

(CNN)Providing opportunities for our kids, supporting our veterans, and conserving our public lands and resources are among the nation's most pressing challenges.

On the surface, they may seem like a disconnected set of issues. But together with Sen. John McCain, Gen. Stanley McChrystal and The Corps Network, we've broken through the silos and developed a bipartisan plan that addresses them all at once: the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act, which Sens. Michael Bennet and John McCain introduced recently in the Senate.
The 21CSC is already engaging young people and recent veterans in every state through paid national service. Corps members are repairing and expanding America's public recreation infrastructure, protecting communities from wildfire, and conserving invaluable natural resources. Our bill would enhance the program and make it permanent.
    The effort addresses a triple threat.
    In today's economy, veterans and younger workers are facing unemployment rates that are more than double the national average. New workers, who lack access to entry-level positions and the skills and experience that come with them, are falling behind.