Monday was President’s Day — a day we Americans celebrate our presidents. George Washington, who was born on February 22, 1732, tends to get most of the attention, but the holiday is an occasion to honor each person who served our country in its highest office.
As we reflect on the many great things our presidents have done, let us remember what they did to protect and preserve public lands, water and air, as well as the animals that call them home. Without their efforts, we would not be able to enjoy our parks and forests or the animals around us — at least not like we do today.
Many of our presidents loved the outdoors. For some, spending time outside was a pastime. For others, it was a lifestyle. Our earliest leaders lived on the frontier, and several of our presidents were avowed anglers and hunters. Here are a few presidents who loved nature.
Myth surrounds the early life of America’s first president, but his love for the outdoors is well-documented in his personal diaries, where he wrote affectionately about his plantation, Mount Vernon. When Washington wasn’t commanding the Continental Army or leading the country through its first years, he spent time at Mount Vernon, where he grew tobacco and other crops.
Washington also loved horseback riding and fishing, and his diaries are replete with accounts of dog breeding and fox hunting. While the “father of the country” cared deeply for America, many of his passions were found in nature.
Perhaps no other president loved nature as much as Theodore Roosevelt. Known as the “conservationist president,” Roosevelt preserved some 230 million acres of public land during his time in office. His efforts led to the establishment of the National Parks System, which was created in 1916 — seven years after he left office.
During his presidency, Roosevelt protected wildlife and public lands by establishing 51 national bird refuges, 18 national monuments and five national parks. He also created the U.S. Forest Service and signed into law the Antiquities Act, which gives the president authority to set aside public lands for parks and conservation.
But Roosevelt’s love for the outdoors extended beyond conservation. He also was a sportsman and hunter throughout his life. Later in life, after becoming frustrated with politics, Roosevelt famously led an expedition to Africa to collect specimens for the Smithsonian Institution’s Natural History museum. During that safari, Roosevelt hunted, trapped and observed 11,400 animals, and furthered our understanding of wildlife.
Taking a strong stance on protecting the environment, President Barack Obama enacted many policies during his time in office to ensure public land would be preserved for future generations to enjoy.
During his presidency, Obama issued presidential proclamations protecting 550 million acres of land and coastal regions, including marine reserves in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. He also launched an initiative to expand outdoor recreational access and opportunities around the country.
These acts come at a good time, as interest in America’s national parks and forests is at an all-time high.
Many other presidents loved the outdoors and made sure nature was treated with the respect it deserves. Now, we must remember to follow these examples and do our part to protect nature all around us.
Do your part by learning more about wildlife and nature here in West Virginia!