“I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.”
Does this sound like a quote from the most recent Presidential Debate? Wrong. The quote is from Founding Father, Virginia native, and environmentalist Thomas Jefferson.
“A change in our climate, however, is taking place…snows are less frequent and less deep.”
Al Gore? Climate change guru Bill Mckibben? Nope. Tommy J. again.
It seems that Jefferson was as concerned about his environment as much as he was concerned about Declarations and fine wines.
In addition to being a philosopher, writer, and scientist, Jefferson was widely known for having a keen interest in the natural beauty of his surroundings and documenting the workings of his farm. This being a hot time in the election cycle, we thought that we’d take a look at some other presidents and how they impacted our State, and our Nation’s, scenic beauty.
This conversation would be lapse if we didn’t start with Teddy Roosevelt. Theodore Rex was an avid hunter (Before you get all excited, remember that hunters have a vested interest in preserving and protecting green spaces!), and did a great deal to establish parks and preserves as we know them today. He constantly harassed Congress until they passed the Forest Reserve Act, which set aside 150 million acres of woodlands as public spaces, and he created the U.S. Forest Service. As President, he also oversaw the creation of five of our National Parks, and 50 wildlife refuges. During his term in office, he put over 230 million acres of land under public protection.
We often think of Roosevelt when we think of Yosemite, but did you know that placing Yosemite Valley as a public trust was actually the work of Abe Lincoln? Even when he was burdened by the Civil War, Lincoln was concerned with our environment. He also established the Department of Agriculture and the National Academy of Sciences. The Academy of Sciences continues to lead in new discoveries and innovation in the areas of green and sustainable energies.
While known for his Texas drawl and his work on Civil Rights, Lyndon Johnson did a great deal to foster urban renewal, was a big sponsor of responsible mass transit, and signed the Wilderness Act, placing 9 million acres of federal land under protection. We’re fond of his wife, Lady Bird. First off, great name. Secondly, she was a huge advocate of public parks and beautification. She once said, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” Is it any wonder that many of today’s flower hybrids are named “Lady Bird”?
Herbert Hoover gets a lot of flack for being kind of a do-nothing President, but he did love his outdoors! An avid fly-fisherman, he seemed to seek solace by a stream to escape the troubles of his presidency. We suppose a few speckleds in the creel would take some of the bite out of the Great Depression. He did do some real good for Ole Virginny. One of his favorite spots was up by Old Rag Mountain. He had a camp built on top of a ridge where he could relax. That became Big Meadows and Skyland, and is now part of Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive. Franklin Roosevelt used some of Hoover’s old digs when he dedicated the park in 1935.
Okay, don’t laugh: Jimmy Carter.
Carter was at the center of a gas crisis, a hostage crisis, and is not remembered for being a strong leader. What he is less known for is installing solar panels on top of the White House. He also mandated standard fuel economies for vehicles, fostered a number of environmental protection acts and bills, and wore uglier sweaters than Mr. Rogers. Carter wore the sweaters as a symbol of his dedication to reducing energy consumption. He mandated that all of the thermostats in the White House be set at an efficient 68 degrees.
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson told the story of the impact of pesticides on our lands and our food supply. It was published in 1962, during the short presidency of John F. Kennedy. Kennedy obviously read it, because much of his work planted the seeds for the EPA and many of our current environmental laws. Perhaps it was the summers on the Cape, but his brother, Robert F. Kennedy was running on a strong environmental platform when his life was cut short, and Robert’s son Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has continued his family’s legacy. RFK, Jr. is a vocal champion of environmental protection, founding Riverkeepers, Waterkeeper Alliance, and is actively involved in stopping mountaintop removal mining.
As we edge closer to our actual election, we hope that you’ll make a responsible choice with your vote. Republican or Democrat, Tea Partier or Independent; the choice is up to you. We can badger you about recycling and planting trees, but your voting choice is yours and yours alone. We’ll keep our choice to ourselves.
Our next President has a lot of work to do; trimming our deficit, getting some folks back to work, and building our relationships with our global partners. As our candidates sign pledges on taxes, families, and spending, we hope that your candidate has a pledge to Keep Virginia Beautiful.