President Barack Obama took a few days to go on a working vacation this week and, to help celebrate the 100th anniverrsary of the National Park Service, the first family visited Yosemite National Park, one of the nation’s most popular national parks.
In a brief speech on Saturday at Sentinel Bridge with the 2,425 feet of the Yosemite Falls cascaded behind him, the president made the case for why Americans need to visit the national parks, and made a few remarks about the need to fight climate change and the need to invest in conservation.
“You can’t capture this on an iPad or a flat screen or even an oil painting. You’ve got to come here and breathe it in yourself,” Mr. Obama said
National Geographic came along for the ride, working with Facebook to shoot an Oculus virtual reality video and recording an interview with Mr. Obama to be aired in August.
The White House said Mr. Obama would be the first sitting president to take part in a “virtual reality experience.”
The president met some park visitors and handed out free passes to the national parks to children sitting cross-legged on a trail, comically growling at them when they shouted “Go away bears!” as a park ranger had taught them.
The passes – available to any fourth-grade student – are part of the “Every kid in a park” promotion to get more families to visit national parks.
Mr. Obama recalled the first time he saw moose and deer in a national park at age 11.
“That changes you. You’re not the same after that,” he said. “We’ve got kids all across this country who never see a park. We’ve got to change that.”
The president highlighted a plan to reduce climate-changing fossil fuel emissions and an international deal spurring other countries to take similar steps. He said climate change is putting national parks at risk.
“That’s not the legacy I think any of us want to leave,” he said.
See our previous coverage of this issue: Climate Change Comes to Shenandoah
President Obama has added 20 sites to the national park system during his presidency and protected more than 265 million acres of public lands and waters from development – more than any other president.
But “we’ve got to do a lot more,” he said.
On his personal Facebook page, the president posted a couple of photos he took himself and a few remarks.
“They call the valley walls here at Yosemite ‘cathedral walls,’ and I understand why,” he said. “There’s something sacred about this place. At places like this, we connect not just with ourselves, but with something bigger — with the spirit of America itself.”
He urged Americans to hit the website FindYourPark.org and spend some time in “the great outdoors.”
This past year I spent time as a volunteer campground host in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Greenbelt Park in Maryland, where I took so many photos the National Park Service picked a few of them up for the FindYourPark banners for Greenbelt.
Here’s one. If you ever find yourself on a camping trip near Washington, D.C., check out this campground only about 12 miles from the White House.
© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.