Another Presidential Walk in the Park
The Obama family heads to Yellowstone National Park on Saturday -- thanks, in part, to Douglas Brinkley.
The author was among nine historians -- including Garry Wills, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Beschloss -- invited to a private White House dinner with the president June 30. Each talked about the legacy of a past president; Brinkley discussed Theodore Roosevelt and his role in preserving America's natural resources -- the subject of Brinkley's new book, "The Wilderness Warrior."
The off-the-record dinner, reported Thursday by Vanity Fair, must have made an impression on the president. A few days later, Brinkley got a call from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar inviting him to drop by. The men spent two hours talking about conservation history, wildlife protection and where Obama should visit if he went to a national park.
"He was keenly interested in everything Roosevelt did," Brinkley told us. Salazar was especially intrigued by the 26th president's expansion of the national park system: In 1903, Roosevelt famously made a trip to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite that resulted in sweeping protection of the land from commercial interests. Brinkley recommended Obama create a caribou reserve in Alaska, something like the one
Roosevelt mandated in Oklahoma to save bison.
Brinkley walked away impressed: "I think Salazar is going to be one of the great secretaries of the interior, in the tradition of Harold Ickes and Stewart Udall."
Brinkley didn't discuss specific details of Obama's trip, but hoped the president would visit Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. "Yellowstone and Grand Canyon are national parks, but ANWR is not protected." He also lobbied for park status for Maine's North Woods, "where T.R. first fell in love with the raw wilderness of America."
But Brinkley said he's thrilled the first family is setting an example. "It sends the right message, that we need to treasure America's heirlooms. Yellowstone is our Louvre, the Grand Canyon our Westminster Abbey."
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