As you’ve probably noticed, today is Presidents Day, that highly anticipated yearly event when banks and post offices shut down while your place of employment always seems to remain open.
If you’re stuck in the office wishing you could be out in the streets whooping it up for George Washington, or whatever it is one does to celebrate Presidents Day, take a second to read about 5 U.S. Presidents who have made their mark on the world of outdoor recreation.
Theodore Roosevelt: The Cowboy Conservationist
No discussion of outdoor-loving presidents would be complete without mention of Teddy Roosevelt. This guy’s penchant for rugged outdoor activity was truly remarkable. He first meandered onto the western landscape in his younger days, with hopes of hunting bison, and eventually found himself running a small cattle ranching operation in North Dakota.
Unlike many of his peers, who traveled West only to exploit the land for their own financial gain, Roosevelt saw the inherent value it had to offer a nation that was rapidly growing but still in its infancy. His early years out West were dominated by hunting trips and cattle drives, but once he saw the havoc that unregulated hunting and ranching was wreaking on the landscape, his thirst for adventure gave way to a desire to help preserve the beauty of the West forever.
To this day, few presidents can claim a conservation legacy as profound as the one left by Theodore Roosevelt. In addition to creating the U.S. Forest Service and designating 150 national forests, the Roosevelt administration produced 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks and 18 national monuments.
To this day, Roosevelt is considered the father of the modern conservation movement.
Gerald Ford: Yellowstone Park Ranger
Long before Gerald R. Ford was keeping American entertained with an epic highlight reel of presidential bloopers, he was holding it down as a park ranger in the Canyon Ranger District of Yellowstone National Park.
Still the only POTUS to have actively served as an NPS ranger, Ford enjoyed the distinguished title of ‘armed guard’ on one of Canyon’s bear feeding trucks.
In addition to contributing to the dangerous habituation of Yellowstone grizzlies, Ford handled meet and greets for important park visitors. Years later he would call his brief stint as an NPS ranger one of the greatest summers of his life.
Jimmy Carter: Paddler, Fly Fisherman and Environmental Stalwart
According to a New York Times article from 1994, former Georgia peanut farmer Jimmy Carter was far and away the most skilled fly fisherman to ever occupy the Oval Office.
“Since taking up the sport in the early 1970’s on Georgia’s Chattahoochee River, Carter has passed the big tests of casting a clean line,” the article reads, “taking heavy trout on fine tippets, and tying flies that can stand close inspection.”
Carter didn’t stop at fly fishing. He also enjoyed paddling the many whitewater tributaries of the North Georgia mountains, famously braving the class IV rapids of the Chattooga while lobbying for the river’s protection as a wild and scenic waterway during his tenure as governor.
During his single term as president Carter kept a steady eye on environmental issues, implementing the Soil and Water Conservation Act, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, the Antarctic Conservation Act, and the Endangered American Wilderness Act.
Herbert Hoover: Master of the Rapidan
Herbert Hoover is probably best known for presiding over the worst financial collapse in the history of the civilized world, but man could he cast a mean dry fly.
It’s said that Hoover, who honed his fly fishing skills on Virginia’s Rapidan River, turned to fishing as a respite from the demanding rigors of life in the public eye.
Hoover himself famously claimed that “there are only two occasions when Americans respect privacy, especially in Presidents. Those are prayer and fishing.”
He was what we call in today’s terms a “fly fishing purist” or “trout snob”, whichever you prefer.
In an interview with the National Park Service, Pete Hoover, the grandson of the 31st President, recalled Hoover saying “that really there’s only one kind of fishing and that’s trout fishing in streams.”
Barack Obama: Bear Grylls-trained Survivalist and Environmental Conservationist
Okay, that’s not a recognized certification of any kind, and our 44th President isn’t really known for his outdoor prowess. But hey, he dined on half-eaten salmon with Bear Grylls in Seward, Alaska. How could I leave him off the list?
He also preserved 260 million acres of land for future generations, more than any of his predecessors, by designating 19 national monuments.