Our nation’s first president, George Washington, may have been the original reason for celebrating President’s Day, but the federal holiday has expanded to honor the incumbent president and all those who have served in that position for United States.
But in a special way we remember those presidents who were heavy hitters and who made profound contributions to our national and state parks, who preserved the great outdoors so that people like us can continue to enjoy, learn, and explore.
Undoubtedly, the first past president who came to mind was Teddy Roosevelt. An outdoorsman and horseman, Roosevelt is responsible for creating five national parks (Crater Lake, Wind Cave, Sullys Hill, Platt, and Mesa Verde), and 18 national monuments, 51 bird sanctuaries. He launched the National Wildlife Refuge System, created the United States Fire Service, and protected millions of acres of public land for the American people as well as set aside millions of acres for national forests. Roosevelt saw our natural resources, and natural beauty, something to protect and treasure. He once said, “It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it.”
Teddy Roosevelt may have created several national parks, but the way was paved by former Civil War general Ulysses Grant. He signed a law to establish Yellowstone as the first national park in the United States. Now, there are more than 400 in the country, including five in the state of Michigan (plus a national lakeshore, national battlefield, and national heritage park). In fact, Mackinac National Park was created in 1875 and was the nation’s second national park, which was turned over to state control twenty years later.
One of Wilson’s greatest achievements was signing an act in 1916 to create the National Park Service (NPS), which would be responsible for managing the national parks and national monuments. More than half a century later, the NPS conducted studies of the Great Lakes. This led to the designation of the Pictured Rocks as a national lakeshore. Sleeping Bear Dunes was established in 1970. These two major Michigan attractions are under the protection of the NPS. And aren’t we glad that we have these beautiful, unspoiled areas to enjoy.
Lyndon B. Johnson
This sixties president took our nation’s public land heritage seriously. He signed the Wilderness Act to protect exceptional public lands. It currently protects 100 million acres of wilderness. He’s also responsible for establishing the National Trails System and the Land and Water Conservation Act.
Many other U.S. presidents have contributed greatly to the conservation of America’s lands, some simply keeping up with the policies of their predecessors, some making fundamental changes that made a substantial impact. Everything has had a difference in the appearance of our nation and how we can enjoy it. And since being outdoors is an essential component of RV life, we benefit from these efforts.