LIKE SO many of our national parks, Grand Teton impresses its visitors at once with both the power and the serenity of nature. The jagged peaks and the outcroppings of the Teton Range cause us to stand in awe of the forces which have caused their formation. But at the same time, the beauty, the quiet, and the freshness of this area are healing qualities which work to renew our spirit and our sense of purpose.
Next year representatives from nearly 90 nations will gather here in the Grand Tetons for the Second World Conference on National Parks. I cannot think of a more appropriate setting for these delegates to discuss what good parks can do for people and how we can make them even better.
Another important event will occur next year, when the United States celebrates the centennial of the beginning of its own national park system--a system which not only has enhanced the American landscape but has also inspired other nations to act in similar ways to save their most valued natural wonders for the enjoyment of future generations. It was in 1872 that Congress established our first national park at Yellowstone and laid the foundation for the creation of other parks in later years. That was a time when Americans were more interested in taming the wilderness than preserving it; yet farsighted and sensitive men and women were able to begin the great work of preservation even then.
In this century that work has been accelerated. In 1916, when the National Park Service was established, we had 37 national parks and monuments. Since that time we have added 246 new areas for the enjoyment of all Americans. Thirteen new areas have been added to the national park system since January of 1969 alone. In 1916, less than one-half million people visited our parks; last year there were 170 million visitations in our national park areas; and as our system has grown to include not only national parks but also national seashores, lakeshores, recreation areas, monuments, parkways, historic sites, and wilderness areas, we have also been learning to meet the many new challenges brought on by the increased prosperity and mobility of our people.
At the same time, the growing popularity of our parks has created a number of serious new problems as millions of Americans have sought the recreation and respite they provide. Traffic congestion and crowded campsites are becoming more common. In many places, natural systems have been overburdened and damaged by the presence of too many people. Wild animals and unique plants have often been crowded out of their traditional habitat. In short, we are beginning to understand that there are limits to the amount of use our parklands can withstand, and that as more and more people seek the great rewards of outdoor life, the experience can be somewhat diminished for each of them.
But these problems are not insoluble. We can meet them, if only we have enough will and imagination and discipline. I believe, for example, that our growing management expertise can teach us how to use our existing parks and forests more efficiently. And I am also convinced that we can substantially expand the acreage of our parklands, providing more adequate and more convenient recreational opportunities for all of our people.
This is why, in my State of the Union Message this year, I proposed the most comprehensive program in the history of this Nation to provide more lands for all Americans. From small city lots to massive wilderness tracts, such lands can stand as a great legacy to future generations. In my special message to the Congress on the environment on February 8, I outlined the specific components of this "Legacy of Parks" proposal. Since that time the Congress has acted favorably on some of the implementing legislation, but there is still a great deal that must be done before the major parts of this program become effective.
The main source of funds for both State and Federal park acquisitions at present is the Land and Water Conservation Fund. I asked in my 1971 and 1972 budgets that the Congress appropriate the full amount authorized for this Fund so that our acquisition efforts can be expanded.
In discussing this Fund, I would emphasize the good work which State governments have been doing to purchase and develop their own recreational lands. The Fund has provided them with a great deal of money, to be sure, but they themselves have provided the required matching funds from their own resources. They have arranged land purchases, directed development, and undertaken the responsibility for operating and maintaining the facilities. Since the inception of the Fund, in fact, the matching fund program has resulted in the purchase and development of some 700,000 acres. The annual acquisition rate has risen to the 150,000 acre level. State governments have also done an excellent job of experimenting with new ideas so that the range of public recreational opportunities can be broadened. For example, more than half of our States are now carrying out programs of scenic river or trail preservation.
Other elements in our program are also moving forward. In May of 1971, for example, my Administration submitted a bill to establish a Gateway National Recreation Area in New York and New Jersey which would provide over 20,000 acres of parks, beaches, wildlife preserve, and open water, situated within easy reach of the more than 14 million people who live in the immediate area. The Senate acted favorably on this bill on the day before it began its summer recess. I urgently hope that the House of Representatives will add its approval soon after it reconvenes.
One of the hallmarks of our proposals concerning parks is the emphasis we have placed upon variety. A highly diversified people should have access to highly diversified opportunities. For example, many will prefer the conveniences and activities of a well-developed park, while others will prefer the solitude of the wilderness.
It is essential that our system of parks satisfy both the casual tourist and the avid outdoorsman, that we have places where families can meet other families and places where people can be alone.
In my judgment, we have not always done all we should to provide such diversity. One important reason is our failure to set aside sufficient wilderness areas for recreational purposes. To help remedy this situation, I have asked the Congress this year to set aside 14 new wilderness areas, totaling 1.8 million acres. And I have asked that we accelerate the process whereby we designate these wilderness areas, so that the current backlog of proposals can be eliminated. I again urge Congressional action on these recommendations.
As another important part of the "Legacy of Parks" program, I have asked that annual funding for the open space programs of the Department of Housing and Urban Development be increased from $75 million to $200 million--an almost threefold expansion. The main emphasis of the new HUD program will be on providing parks and open space in urban areas, where most people live, and especially in the inner cities, where the shortage of recreation facilities is now most critical.
It has been estimated that some 75 percent of all outdoor recreation enjoyed by Americans takes place within a short distance of their homes. That is why I believe so strongly that we should be doing far more to bring our parks to the people. The Congress has thus far appropriated only $100 million for the HUD program.
Finally, I would point to my establishment of the Federal Property Review Board, which evaluates federally owned properties in order to determine whether they can be converted to park use. Close to 100 such properties have already been identified, and 24 of these, containing more than 5,000 acres, are now in the process of being conveyed by the Department of the Interior to local and State agencies. Mrs. Nixon has sought to encourage this important effort during her trip across the country this week.
Many of the properties which have been released under this program are within easy reach of our larger urban areas. To augment these efforts, we are also preparing a number of amendments to the Federal Income Tax Code which would facilitate charitable donations of property for conservation purposes. I hope to present these proposals to the Congress in the near future.
The combined effect of all these activities will be to provide that full range of outdoor experiences which our dynamic population requires. For some, this program will provide neighborhood parks in the city. For others, it will offer a pleasant setting for a weekend retreat, for an afternoon bike ride, or for a family vacation. For still others, it will provide the chance truly to escape into the wilderness.
I believe our Nation can afford to make these opportunities available. In fact, it is my view that we cannot afford not to provide them. For such a program can significantly enhance the quality of our Nation's life and spirit--both now and for future generations.