In the Statement on Signing Bill Designating the Ventana Wilderness, California, fifty years ago, President Nixon wrote,
“Wilderness, unspoiled by man, is deeply rooted in American history and tradition. In the past, our task was to conquer it. Today we must struggle to preserve remaining wilderness areas that still offer the rewards of solitude and unmarred natural grandeur.”
It would be impossible for someone to separate the development of our nation from its westward growth. Expeditions such as Lewis and Clark, and later, stories of the untamed West secured by cowboys and railroad companies, are important parts of our national history, and help to define the American ethos. Understanding that history—how our landscape in turned helped shape America—cannot come from books alone, it also has to be experienced, just as a description or postcard of the Grand Canyon cannot substitute for its awe and majesty. President Nixon recognized this, saying in 1971 in a statement about the “Legacy of Parks,”
“It was in 1872 that Congress established our first national park at Yellowstone and laid the foundation for the creation of other parks in later years. That was a time when Americans were more interested in taming the wilderness than preserving it; yet farsighted and sensitive men and women were able to begin the great work of preservation even then.”
President Nixon also made sure that our Parks program was inclusive, not catering solely to the experienced camper.
“It is essential that our system of parks satisfy both the casual tourist and the avid outdoorsman, that we have places families can meet other families and places where people can be alone.”
President Nixon also wanted to ensure that parks, and open spaces were available to people living in urban areas. As part of the “Legacy on Parks” program President Nixon requested Congress to increase the HUD budget for the open spaces program from 75 million to 200 million, a remedy to “the shortage of recreational facilities” which the President called, “most critical.”
National parks have also grown in popularity immensely. In 1916, the National Park Service recorded less than half a million visitors to the parks. By 1970, the year before releasing his “Legacy of Parks” statement, there were 170 million recorded visits to national park areas.
Parks continue to play an important role in our national identity. Their preservation, as President Nixon pointed out, is for more than just the enjoyment of hikers and families, but also serve as a means to keep our past alive.