Just after my visit to Minidoka National Historic Site, I came back to our Airstream and read a flurry of Facebook and Twitter posts on Obama and the First Family visiting Yosemite National Park in honor of the National Park Service’s Centennial. This got me thinking about the history of our National Parks and National Monuments and how they were created. Of the many that are out there, here are my favorite ten.
Yosemite National Park & Abraham Lincoln
Although President Lincoln has his hands full with the Civil War, he took pause long enough to sign a bill in 1864 establishing Yosemite Valley and the giant groves of sequoias within as an “inalienable public trust” to be managed by the State of California. Although Yosemite didn’t become a National Park until after John Muir’s arduous advocacy until 1890, Abraham’s Yosemite Act of 1894 set a president for the protection and preservation of Yellowstone, and other national parks to follow.
Yellowstone National Park & Ulysses S. Grant
Under Grant’s administration, a number of expeditions were sent to explore the Yellowstone Region from 1869 to 1870. When they returned with reports of immense wonder and declaring the location as a “pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” Grant signed the Act of Dedication in 1872. More government expeditions were sent to Yellowstone thereafter, up through 1890, all logging and recording much of the park and surrounding area of the now nationally beloved park.
Hot Springs National Park & Andrew Jackson
Hot-headed President Jackson, while campaigning for his second term and actively working toward the removal of Native Americans that would lead directly to the Trail of Tears, signed a legislation in 1832 that would permanently set aside land within the Arkansas Territory as a federally protected reservation. Once known as Hot Springs Reservation, today that park is called Hot Springs National Park.
Crater Lake National Park & Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt is regarded to be the ultimate natural preservation president. He set aside a total of 230 million acres of land for protection under federal law. He presided the creation of the National Forest Service and the signing of the Antiquities Act. He also created the first wildlife refuge in Florida in 1903 to protect a colony of pelicans. Later he would go on to help create more than 50 bird sanctuaries, 18 monuments, and five national parks, one of them being Crater Lake National Park, our nation’s sixth national park.
Grand Canyon National Park & Woodrow Wilson
On February 26, 1919, only three years after the creation of the National Parks Service, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Grand Canyon National Park Act. It was one of his last legacies before suffering from a debilitating stroke later that same year. He did have help from both Presidents Theodore Rosevelt and Benjamin Harrison. Harrison designated much of the Grand Canyon area as a preserve in 1893, while Roosevelt upgraded the area as a National Monument in 1908.
Grand Teton National Park & Calvin Coolidge
President Calvin Coolidge enjoyed the outdoors and relished in the romance of the American Wild West. As an experienced rider, Coolidge even installed an electric bucking horse in the White House as a form of exercise. On the same day as the signing of Wilson’s Grand Canyon National Park Act, but a decade later, President Coolidge signed a bill in 1929 establishing Grand Teton National Park, after being pressured by locals who declared “we have tried ranching, stock-raising, and from our experience have become of the firm belief that this region will find its highest use as a playground.” Located only 10 miles south of Yellowstone, the area was first established as a reserve by President Grover Cleveland in 1872. It wasn’t until 1950, that Jackson Hole was added to Grand Teton National Park, bringing the total acreage up to 310,000.
Olympic National Park and Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt originally created Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909, but It was designated a national park by Theodore’s fifth cousin, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was only in the previous year, FDR and Ickles decided to enter into a 30-year controversy between conservationists, natives, and loggers. While on a tour of the area, Franklin Roosevelt saw the devastation wrought by loggers, and he said, “I hope the son-of-a-bitch who is responsible for this is roasting in hell.” Unbeknownst to him at the time, he was looking at federal land that was unlawfully deforested by loggers. When he did discover the deception, it only drove his desires to create a national park on June 29, 1938.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument & Bill Clinton
The area encompassing Grand Staircase-Escalante National within the state of Utah was declared as a national monument by President Bill Clinton in 1996, under the Antiquities Act. When the monument was declared, the ceremony was held at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and not in Utah. In addition to this slight, the Utah Congressional delegation and state governor were only notified 24 hours in advance of the declaration. Needless to say, Clinton lost Utah during the campaign for his second term.
Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument & George W. Bush
Much of the preservation of the Northwestern Hawaii Islands began in 1909 with Theodore Roosevelt, much of the actual reef’s preservation was done by Bill Clinton as a Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve in 2000. The real proclamation was done by George W. Bush in 2006 after he and his wife viewed a documentary film, Voyage to Kure. Compelled by the film’s description of the flora and fauna of the region, Bush signed the proclamation under the Antiquities Act.
San Juan Islands National Monument & Barak Obama
On March 25, 2013, President Obama signed a proclamation to designate the San Juan Islands National Monument. The proclamation states that “The protection of these lands in the San Juan Islands will maintain their historical and cultural significance and enhance their unique and varied natural and scientific resources, for the benefit of all Americans.” So far this is just one of 22 national monuments created by Obama under the Antiquities Act.