Brinkley: Don't Let Parks Get Overlooked

Face The Nation, Brinkley, 08.16.09
Historian Douglas Brinkley spoke with CBS Early Show anchor Harry Smith about past presidents and national parks.
President Obama, like many other Ameircans have, is enjoying a family vacation to some of America's most famous national parks, visiting Yellowstone National Park Saturday and expected to tour the Grand Canyon Sunday.

But historian Douglas Brinkley says former President Teddy Roosevelt, a champion of conservationism and architect of the country's national parks system, would be "sadly dismayed" at their current state.

Appearing on "Face the Nation" Sunday, Brinkley told anchor Harry Smith that Roosevelt embraced the idea of celebrating America's natural beauty after suffering through the deaths of both his wife and mother on the same day.

"He grew very dark and despondent, took a train ride to the Badlands of North Dakota and wrote a trilogy of books about the ecosytem there and decided that scenic wonders is what distinguished United States from Europe," said Brinkley, whose latest book is Teddy Roosevelt: Wilderness Warrior.

"England has Westminster Abbey, but we had Yellowstone. France might have the Louvre, we have the Grand Canyon."

But even though the national parks, monuments and wildlife reserves are, as Brinkley said, "a great American triumphal success story," much more needs to be done to ensure them for future generations.

"[We] still need places to be designated as parks, like Big Sur, ANWR (the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve) in alaska, the North Woods of Maine.," Brinkley said.

"I'm sitting in California and … [Gov.] Arnold Schwarzenegger is about to try to close 50 to 100 [state parks] because he says he doesn't have money. … So I think hopefully the president's trip and ken burns' upcoming documentary is going to remind people that these are our great wonders that these parks both national and state are what make America really special and great."

After a recent trip to the White House, Brinkley said he thought the administration was "very keen for … the American people to know that some of their tax dollars are going to keep these great parks up and running."

And though he realizes there are other priorities on the national radar screen at the moment, Brinkley said Americans should be willing to pour money into park preservation.

"Clearly health care is going to dominate things now, but the answer is yes. … I think we just have to preserve what we have, we have got to realize that it is America's best idea - the parks, monuments, and wildlife refugees - and think about what Roosevelt called the generation's unborn. These land areas are great heirlooms to future generations."