Did You Know

Presidential Quotations About National Parks

“There is nothing so American as our national parks.... The fundamental idea behind the parks...is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.”

-Franklin D. Roosevelt

"The idea of preserving in a national grouping such spots of scenic beauty and historic memory originated here in this country...In Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, other countries have followed our pioneering example and set aside their most magnificent scenic areas as national treasures for the enjoyment of present and future generations."

-Dwight D. Eisenhower
Personal memoirs (1963)

“National parks and reserves are an integral aspect of intelligent use of natural resources. It is the course of wisdom to set aside an ample portion of our natural resources as national parks and reserves, thus ensuring that future generations may know the majesty of the earth as we know it today.”

-John F. Kennedy
World Conference on National Parks (June 23, 1962)

"Our National Parks belong to each of us, and they are natural places to learn, exercise, volunteer, spend time with family and friends, and enjoy the magnificent beauty of our great land."

-George W. Bush
Announcement of National Park Week (April 16, 2008)

Presidential Connections to Greater Washington National Parks

From the dreams of George Washington to the inauguration of Barack Obama, National Parks are places where presidential stories happen and where history continues to be made.

Here are a few of the stories of American Presidents and National Parks:

National Mall and Memorial Parks:

The National Mall and Memorial Parks possesses a unique and important presidential legacy. From the 1791 day when President George Washington walked the ground of the emerging capital city to the January 2009 day when President-elect Barack Obama descended the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, every President of the United States will have visited the National Mall and Memorial Parks. This is the only National Park Service unit that can boast of this distinct honor.

After the Congress passed the Residence Act of 1790, President George Washington selected the exact federal city site for the republic’s new federal government. The resulting federal parkland, therefore, is the oldest such land managed by the National Park Service. National Mall and Memorial Parks shares this distinction with other units of the Greater Washington National Parks system.

National Mall and Memorial Parks proudly administers many memorials dedicated to presidential leadership and to historic events affected by presidential action, but we also preserve park areas where history has been made—and where history will continue to be made. Our presidential sites have become iconic images of the United States of America and the park invites everyone to visit them and be a part of American history.

  • Washington Monument-James K. Polk attended the cornerstone-laying ceremony on July 4, 1848 along with future president, Congressman Abraham Lincoln. Chester A. Arthur dedicated the monument on February 21, 1885. Woodrow Wilson and Harry S Truman each visited the monument during their presidencies.
  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial - Franklin D. Roosevelt attended both the 1939 cornerstone-laying and the April 13, 1943 dedication ceremonies for this tribute to the third President of the United States.
  • Lincoln Memorial - Warren G. Harding accepted the memorial on behalf of the American people on May 30, 1922, along with former president William Howard Taft and Vice President Calvin Coolidge.
  • Ulysses S. Grant Memorial - Vice President Calvin Coolidge, later the thirtieth President of the United States, presided over the April 1922 dedication of the Nation's tribute to Ulysses Grant who was the Union's chief military savior and, later, the eighteenth President of the United States.
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial - Dedicated by William Jefferson Clinton in 1997, the memorial remained a popular venue for special events throughout the remainder of the Clinton Administration.

Click here for information about even more presidential connections to other National Mall and Memorial Parks sites.

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal:

A great life is one whose early dreams carry you through to old age. As a young Virginia colonist, George Washington dreamed of “an easy communication”—a pathway for commerce—between the Chesapeake Bay and the Forks of the Ohio River. His dream became the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. President John Quincy Adams dug the first shovel full of dirt and started the construction of the canal. President Grover Cleveland continued to enjoy the canal as a favorite fishing spot during his presidency.

Harpers Ferry:

George Washington surveyed Harpers Ferry as a teenager and later established the United States Armory and Arsenal there. Later, James Madison married Dolley at the nearby Harewood plantation.

On October 25, 1783, Thomas Jefferson visited Harpers Ferry, viewing "the passage of the Patowmac though the Blue Ridge" from a rock that now bears his name. John Q. Adams visited Harpers Ferry in 1834 and wrote about his disappointment at the view from Jefferson Rock.

President James Buchanan sent Army Colonel Robert E. Lee and the U.S. Marines to Harpers Ferry to capture John Brown in 1859. The book-length poem, “John Brown's Body,” chronicling the Civil War, was the favorite book of President John F. Kennedy.

James Garfield led the effort in the U.S. House of Representatives to support the transfer of Armory buildings in Harpers Ferry after the Civil War and create Storer College for newly freed slaves. Garfield’s example of rising from poverty to lead a nation inspired one of Storer College’s students, Nnamdi Azikwe, to become the first president of Nigeria.

Both President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore celebrated Earth Day 1998 by working with volunteers on the Appalachian Trail at Harpers Ferry. A special wooden staircase was built to accommodate the staging area. The “presidential staircase” is still in use today.

Prince William Forest Park:

Prince William Forest Park was created as a direct result of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal as a Recreational Demonstration Area. It also preserves a portion of the route over which then General George Washington took his troops to march to Yorktown to win the battle that ended the Revolutionary War. Nancy Reagan often visited Prince William Forest Park in the 1980s.

Monocacy National Battlefield:

In August 1864 Lieutenant General and future president Ulysses S. Grant visited the Monocacy battlefield, where, a month before, a major battle had been fought that saved Washington, D.C. from possible capture by Confederate forces under Lieutenant General Jubal Early.

Glen Echo:

President John F. Kennedy’s children, Caroline and John-John, enjoyed visiting Glen Echo Amusement Park where they would snack on hot dogs, throw darts, and ride the roller coaster.

Manassas National Battlefield:

President Theodore Roosevelt visited Manassas National Battlefield in 1903 after a turkey hunt, and ate a luncheon in the Henry House.

President William H. Taft visited Manassas battlefield in 1911 for the "Peace Jubilee" on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the first battle.

Rock Creek:

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson assisted with the survey of Rock Creek when developing the plan for Washington, DC. The Old Stone House at the Park was once thought to be the site of “George Washington’s Engineering Headquarters.”

Abraham Lincoln was at Fort Stevens, now a part of Rock Creek Park, July 11-12, 1864 during the Confederate attack on Washington during the Civil War. He came under direct fire from Confederate sharpshooters.

Many presidents enjoyed Rock Creek Park for its natural beauty and recreational opportunities. Theodore Roosevelt frequently hiked its trails; Dwight David Eisenhower used the golf course at Rock Creek due to a groundhog infestation on the White House lawn; Woodrow Wilson courted Edith Bolling Galt on park trails; and Ronald Reagan used the horse trails and equestrian ring by Picnic Groves 25 & 26.

Frederick Douglass:

On March 4, 1865, Douglass attended Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration. Following the inaugural address, he went to the White House to attend the reception in the East Room. Guards attempted to bar his entry because he was black, but Lincoln intervened and Douglass joined the receiving line. When Douglass shook hands with Lincoln, Lincoln remarked that he had seen him in the audience at the inaugural ceremonies and asked his opinion of the address. Douglass replied, “Mr. Lincoln, that was a sacred effort.”

Following Lincoln’s assassination, Mary Todd Lincoln gave Douglass one of Lincoln’s canes which is currently on display in the Visitor Center of Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. To learn more about Frederick Douglass and his numerous presidential connections visit www.nps.gov/frdo.

Catoctin Mountain Park:

Camp David, the Presidential Retreat located within Catoctin Mountain Park, is a private, secluded place for recreation, contemplation, rest, and relaxation. It was renamed Camp David after the grandson of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Many historical events have occurred at the Presidential Retreat: the planning of the Normandy invasion during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Eisenhower-Khrushchev meetings, John F. Kennedy's discussions of the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam War discussions during the Administrations of Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon, Jimmy Carter's Camp David Accords with Menachem Begin of Israel and Anwar Sadat of Egypt, and many other meetings with foreign dignitaries and guests. Maintaining the privacy and secluded atmosphere of the retreat is an important role for Catoctin Mountain Park. The Presidential Retreat remains within park boundaries but is not open to the public. It is a place where presidents can relax, unwind, contemplate, entertain distinguished guests in an informal setting, and cope with the pressures of modern day society. We hope that you will also understand the value of a place of privacy for the President and accept that the retreat is not open to visitors.

The first Job Corps Center in President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” operated from 1965-1969 in Catoctin Mountain Park. Goals were to combine work, education, and recreation “to create a desire to become happy, useful, and self-supporting citizens,” to “create a good work attitude,” and to improve reading and math skills.

Throughout the country, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s depression-era programs touched national parks. From the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park to the first Recreational Demonstration Areas at Prince William Forest Park, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) programs created opportunities for more people than ever to enjoy outdoor recreation.

National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom:

President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 recognized the dreams of freedom held by enslaved African Americans in the United States. The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution later abolished slavery in 1865. Until all enslaved Americans achieved freedom, however, there were always those whose ingenuity, courage, and resolve enabled them to resist slavery through flight. The National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom facilitates efforts across the United States to document, preserve, and celebrate the history of freedom seekers and those of many religions, ethnic groups, and races who aided them until freedom was proclaimed nationally.

For more infomation about this "park without walls," click here.

Mary McLeod Bethune:

Mary McLeod Bethune was the first woman to be the head of a federal agency, giving her the power to pick up the phone and talk to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was also good friends with Eleanor Roosevelt and worked for President Harry Truman.

U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial:

Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S Truman made difficult strategic decisions to bring World War II to an end, including taking the island of Iwo Jima. The Battle of Iwo Jima was the bloodiest battle in Marine Corps history, but the flag-raising portrayed on the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial inspired hope for the soldiers present and hope for the American people that the war would be won soon. The memorial was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. While not directly fighting in the Pacific theater, he served with a common mission and would oversee the cease-fire in the Korean War as president.


Historic Places Commemorating
the Chief Executives of the United States

Greater Washington National Parks

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