National Parks

The Roosevelt Touch

Without Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, many of America's natural treasures would have ceased to exist. A generation apart, the two men were moved by the dire state of their nation to ramrod monumental changes in how the country preserved its outdoor wonders.

For Theodore, it was his disappointment in the disappearance of the bison and rampant misuse of the land in the western United States. For Franklin, it was the necessity of providing work for an unemployed population; work that could help save the country's ravaged forestland. Both men, through sheer force of will, drove their ideals into law.

Theodore, who believed America had an almost divine responsibility for proper stewardship of its ample resources, brought his conservation leanings to the presidency in 1901. As part of his revolutionary administration, he established the U.S. Forest Service, along with 150 national forests; the first national wildlife refuge; 51 bird preserves; four game preserves; five national parks; and 18 national monuments, including four that became national parks—Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Lassen Peak, and Mount Olympus (Olympic). His foresight accounted for more than half of the lands to be managed by the National Park Service when it was created in 1916—seven years after his presidency ended.

Franklin, who believed the president was called to lead with character and morality, thought it imperative to rescue the country from the throes of the Great Depression. One solution was the provision of jobs on public works. Almost immediately after Franklin's inauguration in 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps was developed. Over nine years, it employed 5 percent of American males and planted about 3 billion trees. The corps was instrumental in suppressing forest fires, clearing campgrounds, constructing roads and trails, controlling floods and soil erosion, and eradicating undesirable plants. The CCC also enabled the National Park Service to improve existing public lands, establish new national parks, and guide the development of a system of state parks. Seven states gained their first state parks through the CCC's efforts, and at the project's end in 1942, a total of 711 state parks had been established. Additionally, Franklin added to the NPS holdings his Hyde Park, NY, home.

Though the inspiration for each differed, their contributions were similar, as are their legacies. They stand as giants among American presidents and as standard-bearers for government-aided conservation.

—Gary Peterson

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