10 Presidents Who Loved Nature

Meet the U.S. presidents who helped establish and preserve some of our most beloved natural landmarks.

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President's Day falls on February 19 this year, representing a day where we honor the efforts of our past leaders. And with everything going on in the world, it's comforting to know that many of our presidents made an effort to protect the beauty of the American landscape. In a recent article, National Geographic highlights the work of some of our greenest presidents, many of whom contributed to the preservation of our National Parks. The protection of these areas can be dated as far back as the Revolutionary War, when Thomas Jefferson first exhibited his love for the environment. Jefferson introduced the tomato, wrote publicly about the benefits of nature, and sent the famous Lewis and Clark on their cross-country trek in order to understand the natural beauty that lay beyond the original settlements. Since then, many presidents have dedicated their time and efforts to nurturing American soil. This process wasn't easy; after the industrial revolution it became harder and harder to protect the natural landscape. Today, we know that environmentalism does not get the attention it deserves. Luckily, the United States still thrives with beautiful National Parks, with special thanks to these presidents.

1. Abraham Lincoln

Our 16th president did great work for our national parks, gifting us with protection of the Yosemite Valley and more. National Geographic pinpoints Lincoln's accomplishments:

Although Honest Abe had a lot on his plate during the Civil War, in 1864 he signed a bill establishing California’s Yosemite Valley and its Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias as an "inalienable public trust" to be administered by the state. That protection was an important first step in what would eventually become Yosemite National Park, now one of the most beloved parks in the world.

2. Ulysses S. Grant

Grant was responsible for the protection of Yellowstone when he legally recognized it as America's first National Park. The act stated that 2.2 million acres would be set aside for use as public park in order for American citizens to enjoy the benefits of Wyoming's natural beauty. This also means that Grant was among the first presidents to publicly recognize exploring nature as an act of leisure, which we now know has amazing benefits for our brains and bodies.

3. Benjamin Harrison

Recognized as the pioneer of national forest reserves, Benjamin Harrison was an avid outdoorsman. In 1891, Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act, which enabled presidents to create forest reserves. He utilized this act "17 times, setting land aside in Colorado (including Pikes Peak), Oregon, California, Washington, New Mexico Territory, Alaska Territory, and Arizona Territory."  In addition, Harrison established the country's second, third, and fourth national parks and the first prehistoric Indian Ruin to fall under federal protection.

4. Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt did more than just inspire the legendary creation of the teddy bear; the man is widely recognized as one of the most dedicated presidents in terms of environmental conservation. He dedicated more than 230 million acres of land for future Americans, created over 50 bird sanctuaries, and designated the country's first wildlife refuge. In addition, Roosevelt granted presidents with the authority to protect national and cultural landmarks when he signed the Antiquities Act. According to National Geographic, Roosevelt then went on "to create 18 monuments and oversaw establishment of five national parks, including Crater Lake and Mesa Verde."

5. Woodrow Wilson

He may not have gifted us with a National Park, but Woodrow Wilson is responsible for establishing the National Park Service. This federal bureau was responsible for protecting 35 national parks and monuments, as well as those that had yet to be established.

6. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

FDR's administration helped designate Joshua Tree and Olympic National Park, both of which are celebrated for their breath-taking wilderness. In addition, FDR created the Civilian Conversation Corps. Not only did this group work wonders for the environment, but it also created several jobs for Americans to help reforest the country, initiate social conservation, and develop the outdoor recreation system. 

7. Jimmy Carter

Another famously green president was our 39th president, Jimmy Carter. According to MNN.com:

He [Carter] accomplished a great deal for the environment, including the expansion of the national parks system, the establishment of a national energy policy, and the creation of the Department of Energy. He put solar panels on the roof of the White House and encouraged Americans to put on a sweater in the winter instead of turning up the heat. In decades since his presidency, Carter has built a reputation as a humanitarian, a champion for social justice, and a peace-keeping advocate.

8. Richard Nixon

While Nixon is most infamously recognized for the Watergate scandal, the man also passed landmark legislations such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. In addition, he established the Environmental Protection Agency, which is dedicated to protecting human health and the beauty of our national landscapes.

9. Bill Clinton

Clinton also makes the list, as his efforts helped establish 19 new national monuments, including Utah's Grand Staircase Escalante and the Giant Sequoia National Monument. On top of that, the Clinton  "launched a long-term effort to restore pristine skies and unspoiled views at the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Acadia and the Great Smoky Mountains National Parks and other natural treasures that draw 290 million visitors a year."

10. Barack Obama

Obama, while still in office, has led several efforts to help protect the natural environment. The current president has increased the amount of U.S. National Monuments to 120, most recently adding three desert sites in California: Castle Mountain, Sand to Snow, and Mojave Trails. Other contributions include the Organ Mountains in New Mexico and Browns Canyon in Colorado.
Thanks to the efforts of our environmentally-friendly presidents, America currently thrives with over 400 national parks, landmarks, reserves, and more. We can only hope these numbers continue to increase as our nation's leaders further consider the beauty of this expansive country.
amanda-kohr Amanda Kohr is a 25-year-old writer and photographer with a penchant for yoga, food, and travel. She prefers to bathe in the moonlight rather than the sun, and enjoys living in a state of the three C’s: cozy, creative, and curious. When she’s not writing, you can find her driving her VW Bug, looking for the next roadside attraction or family diner. She also roams the internet at amandakohr.com.