Ten Things Presidents Have Done for the Parks

On February 12, 2016 President Obama designated three new desert monuments in California—Castle Mountains National Monument, Sand to Snow Monument, and the Mojave Trails Monument. There has been a long history of presidents contributing to the expansion and improvement of the national park system. In honor of President’s Day, here is a list of ten things past presidents have done for the National Parks.

1)  Abraham Lincoln

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln signed a bill that established Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove as a public trust. This bill laid the groundwork that allowed Yosemite Valley to become a national park in 1872.

2) Ulysses S. Grant

President from 1869-1877, Grant created America’s first national park –Yellowstone National Park—in 1872. This is in addition to being the first president in United States history to set aside land with the sole purpose of protecting wildlife.

3) Benjamin Harrison

President Harrison designated land in Alaska as a refuge that would eventually become Katamai National Park and Preserve. He was also responsible for creating the Casa Grande reserve in Arizona, which is the first prehistoric and cultural site to be established in the United States.

4) Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt is often regarded as the conservation president. President Roosevelt saw conservation as a tool to keep America’s natural resources and beauty safe for public enjoyment and not leveraged as manufacturing resources for entrepreneurs. During his two terms, Roosevelt set aside over 230 million acres of land, created over 50 bird sanctuaries, and signed the Antiquities Act—which gives the president the authority to protect natural and cultural resources. Roosevelt used this act to not only create 18 national monuments, but also to designate five national parks. Since the signing of this act into law, 15 other presidents have since used it as grounds for designating national monuments.

5)  Woodrow Wilson

Most remembered for his work with United States foreign policy, in 1916 President Wilson presided over the creation of the National Park Service. The national parks created under Wilson’s presidency include Grand Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Parks.

6) Franklin D. Roosevelt

During the New Deal, Roosevelt used the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to employ 250,000 young men and use them to work in federal and state parks and forests. Men from the CCC helped develop the Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, and many other projects. From 1933 to 1942 these men built roads, bridges, forests, cabin camps, and park structures throughout the county. The Civilian Conservation Corps to date was the largest park improvement program to have taken place in the US.

7) Lyndon B. Johnson

 President Lyndon B. Johnson was very active in the conservation movement because it was a passion of his wife, Lady Bird Johnson. In 1964, Mrs. Johnson formed the Committee for a More Beautiful Capital, where she directed that flowers be planted –especially tulips— within the parks of Washington D.C.  Overtime her beautification movement became nationwide, as she visited national parks and historic sites with the intent of promoting conservation and historic preservation. During his administration, President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965, the Wild Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, and established many new national parks.

8) Gerald Ford

In his youth President Ford was a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park during the summer of 1936. He later returned to the park as president on August 29, 1976 with the hope of generating new public interest in the national parks.

9) George H.W. Bush

President George H.W. Bush and his wife, First Lady Laura Bush, were frequent visitors of national parks. During his presidency George H.W. Bush and his wife visited Yellowstone, Grand Teton, the Everglades, the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, the USS Arizona National Memorial at Pearl Harbor, and the Martin Luther king Jr. National Historic Site. This is in addition to visiting the Lincoln Memorial, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

10) Bill Clinton

In 1994, President Clinton established Joshua Tree National Park under the California Desert Protection Act. This act created the largest protected area of wild land in the lower 48 states, adding 234,000 acres to the park.

 John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt at Glacier Point in 1903. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Scott, Gary. "The Presidents and the National Parks." WHHA. The White House Historical Association, Fall 2010. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

Howard, Brian Clark. "The Presidents Who Gave Us Our Best Parks." National Geographic.National Geographic Society, 12 Feb. 2016. Web. 16 Feb. 2016. 


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