This guest post was written by Constance Carter the previous head of Science Reference who now volunteers here at the Library.
One of the most delightful children’s books I have read is Barb Rosenstock’s The Camping Trip that Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks (New York, Dial Books for Young Readers, c2012). She relates the story of how the President of the United States and the naturalist John Muir joined forces to protect America’s wilderness areas.
On March 14, 1903, Theodore Roosevelt wrote a personal letter to Muir asking Muir to take him through the Yosemite. He noted, “I do not want anyone with me but you, and I want to drop politics absolutely for four days and just be out in the open with you.” Roosevelt had read some of Muir’s writings in which he explained how the wild forests were vanishing as ranchers and developers destroyed the wilderness for their own uses and for money. While most of Roosevelt’s advisors thought that America’s wilderness was too large to ever be depleted, Roosevelt wondered if this were really so and could the government help?
Rosenstock notes that the last thing Muir wanted to do was take another government official camping, but he was convinced that this rough riding, outdoors-man might be able to push for laws to preserve the wilderness. On March 27, 1903, John Muir wrote Roosevelt that a “planned European trip with Professor Sargent at first stood in the way, but a few small changes have brought our trip into harmony with yours and of course I shall go with you gladly.”
The President’s men had put down 40 thick wool blankets for Roosevelt to sleep on; John Muir put down some tree boughs and wrapped himself in a large piece of cloth from his knapsack. Roosevelt sent all his men back to town, so that he could enjoy his wilderness adventure with Muir. The next night Muir fixed the President a bed of boughs and he slept soundly. Roosevelt loved Yosemite, the giant sequoias and the ponderosa pine, the forest animals, and especially the horseback ride to Glacier Point, where he woke up covered in snow. During their four days together, John Muir told him many stories about the geology and natural history of California.
Roosevelt returned to Washington refreshed and enthusiastic about conserving America’s forests and its wilderness areas. He pushed Congress to pass laws to protect the wild lands. He also transferred the responsibility of looking after the forest reserves to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1905 by establishing the U.S. Forest Service. Roosevelt created national monuments, parks, and wildlife sanctuaries—saving approximately 230 million acres of public land for all Americans for all time.
The National Parks are celebrating their hundredth anniversary this year. Your local libraries have wonderful stories about each park—so read more about them. Just ask your local librarian for help in finding books on the parks—they are available for every age and taste. Younger readers might enjoy Yellowstone Moran: Painting the American West; All Aboard! National Parks: A Wildlife Primer; and Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost his Groceries, Changed his Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service.