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 Peter Takes on History 

January 11, 1908

Teddy Roosevelt and America's National Parks

"We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received," said then President Theodore Roosevelt, motioning to the Grand Canyon behind him.

If you’ve seen it, you know it is definitely grand - about 7200 feet at its deepest, 18 miles at its widest and 277 miles long, the Colorado River racing its entire length and on January 11, 1908 Roosevelt declared the Arizona landmark a National Monument.

Not a National Park. A National Monument.

Only Congress can designate land as a National Park and Roosevelt didn’t have the patience for that and, in fact, it took congress another decade to make it a national park!

Of course Native Americans lived in the area since the 1200’s but the first European to visit the canyon was Spanish explorer Coronado in 1540. But it is remote and mostly inaccessible, so it was another 300 years before American’s got around to exploring and mapping the canyon.1869. A geological survey team of 10 men braved the Class 5 rapids in four wooden rowboats!

Teddy called it, “the one great sight which every American should see.” Today, it attracts 5 million visitors a year. 300,000 venture out onto that horseshoe-shaped glass walkway 4,000 feet above the canyon floor. A tour guide in Shanghai once who told me the Grand Canyon is one of the big three American attractions Chinese tourists want to see. She said, “The Mouse, the Apple and the hole; in that order.”

Roosevelt was one of the first in the US government to realize natural resources – from animals to minerals – were finite. As a hunter he recognized the decimation of bison, the eradication of elk, bighorn sheep and other species. Roosevelt wrote, “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams ...”

Roosevelt used his authority to create the US Forest Service and established 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves and 18 national monuments. He also worked with congress to create 5 national parks. During his presidency Roosevelt protected approximately 230 million acres of public land. And today there are six national park sites dedicated, in part or whole, to our first “conservationist president.”

At the dedication Roosevelt went on to address his fellow citizens saying, " ... each one (of us) must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune."

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