Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to the National Campers and Hikers Association in Bowling Green, Kentucky

July 12, 1984

The President. Thank you, Porky. Thank you, and Secretary Clark, Congressman Natcher, it's a great pleasure to be back in Kentucky. And I'm delighted to join all of you, members of the National Campers and Hikers Association, here in this beautiful setting.

Audience member. We love you!

The President. Thank you. I know you've come from all over this land, and I've just come from Mammoth Cave National Park. [Laughter] And I want to give special thanks to those who make it possible for us to enjoy Mammoth Cave and all our national parks, our National Park Service.

Many of you have used camping facilities maintained by the Park Service or hiked on trails the Park Service has blazed, so I'm sure that you join with me in a feeling of great gratitude for the men and women of our National Park Service.

Now, I'm told that there are more than 20,000 of you here today, from retired couples to young families with infant children-an all-American gathering of people from every walk of life firmly united in enjoyment of the great outdoors. For more than 20 years, your National Campers and Hikers Association has been helping to enjoy the land, but in addition, in many cases, helping to preserve the beauty of the land itself.

Ever since taking office, we've urged Americans to become active in voluntarism programs, and your conservation work provides an inspiring example. You maintain wildlife refuges; you plant trees, clean up streams, parks, and highways. You've raised funds to protect endangered species like our nation's symbol, the bald eagle, and you've worked with the Department of Agriculture to control the spread of the gypsy moth, which is a blight on our woodlands.

There's another aspect of your association that I want to applaud, your support for the family. The American family is the foundation of our country's goodness and strength. Take away the sense of purpose that raising a family gives to men and women, take away the love, support, and training that children get from their parents, and all that we hold dear in this land will be in jeopardy. But by promoting activities that everyone from grandparents to toddlers can enjoy, you're keeping families together, and you're keeping them strong.

Today I want to speak about a matter that concerns us all: our efforts to protect our country's national heritage. It was near the turn of the century that concerned citizens, naturalists, and explorers first brought to the Nation's attention a series of grave threats to our environment. They pointed at dwindling resources, unprotected wilderness areas, imperiled wildlife, and a public that was uninformed.

One of the central figures in that movement, I know, has been mentioned already here today—Theodore Roosevelt, a great President, who for the first time outlined the legitimate role of the Federal Government in protecting our environment. He also, I think, was the fellow that was responsible for adding the West Wing to the White House, where the offices are, because his wife told him one day, when the White House was also all the Presidential offices, she said, "If I'm going to raise a half a dozen kids, you're going to get your people out of here." [Laughter]

But he said, "of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence ... there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us .... "Well, I know that all of us take pride in the measures that were set in motion by President Theodore Roosevelt and the environmental movement of his day.

In 1916 our National Park Service was created, and today it cares for 335 sites, with a total area that is bigger than Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky put together. Our parks include wonders like the desert majesty of the Grand Canyon, the icy beauty of Mount McKinley; and last year alone, they were enjoyed by some 254 million visitors.

In the years since the founding of our National Park Service, other landmark environmental legislation has been passed. 1964 Wilderness Act called for areas to be set aside in wholly natural environments, lacking even roads. In 1973 the Congress passed the Endangered Species Act, one of the most far-reaching laws anywhere—anywhere in the world—to prevent the extinction of plants and animals.

During the sixties and seventies, we became aware of the growing threat of pollution, and in 1970 we created the Environmental Protection Agency. At the time some claimed that, despite the EPA, economic progress would bring in its wake more and more pollution. But advances in science and technology, born out of our system of free enterprise, combined with the work of the EPA to prove just the opposite.

There has been a 60-percent increase in coal-fired electric generation capacity during the last 14 years. Yet powerplant sulfur emissions today are lower than they were in 1970. During the decade of '70 to 1980, the number of miles traveled by cars and trucks on our highways increased by nearly 40 percent. Yet, at the same time, total pollution from those cars and trucks actually dropped by almost 20 percent. Over the same period, we've seen dramatic improvement in the quality of surface water throughout the country. Today salmon and trout are returning to rivers and streams where they haven't been seen for generations.

America has built a proud record of achievement in protecting her natural heritage over the past three-quarters of a century. At the same time that our population was growing by leaps and bounds and we were building the most productive economy on Earth, we were protecting our lands and wildlife and working successfully to keep our air and water clean.

Sadly, though, in recent years our environmental efforts began to lose some of their energy and direction. Indeed, by the time our administration came into office, the Federal Government had become somewhat negligent in its care of our natural heritage. Our parks have suffered funding declines for maintenance and were in disrepair. At Yellowstone National Park alone there were health and safety hazards that would require millions of dollars to correct.

America's wetlands were in grave danger of disappearing. State plans to combat pollution had been allowed to pile up in an enormous backlog. And the vital task of preserving endangered species had been neglected, because the Government had failed to complete the necessary recovery plans—even though those plans had long ago been mandated by the Congress.

Well, a few years ago we were faced with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and a weak and vacillating foreign policy that had lost the respect of friend and foe alike. Yet, even while we moved to address these twin crises, we were determined to move quickly and effectively to deal with the Federal Government's lagging efforts to protect our environment.

One of our most important efforts has involved hazardous wastes. Where wastes were mismanaged in the past, we've moved aggressively under the Superfund program. By the end of this year, the Environmental Protection Agency expects to have undertaken more than 400 actions to address contamination threats. At hundreds of other national priority sites, long-term work is underway to remove wastes and eliminate contamination of valuable land and groundwater. And as I told the Congress in that State of the Union Address, I'm committed to seeking an extension of that Superfund law. Negligent handling of toxic wastes threatens the health of thousands of Americans. And I pledge to you that your government will take all the necessary steps to protect the American people against the menace of hazardous wastes.

To combat water pollution, our administration has established more stringent standards for 19 critical industries. To deal with the threat of lead poisoning, we've issued regulations that sharply reduce the amount of lead in gasoline. In controlling pesticides, we're handling more reviews of new chemicals, and we've moved against the dangerous pesticide EDB, ethylene dibromide.

And as a first practical step to deal with acid rain, our administration is conducting extensive research. Now, some have suggested that, oh, this is just government studying something to death. No, it isn't. The more we've learned, the more we've realized how little we know about the problem that is causing some of our lakes to die and some of our forests to be affected. And so, during the coming year, we plan to spend $127 million on further research, so that before we turn loose recommendations as to what must be done about it, we'll know really what we're talking about; and we won't be wasting your tax money or that of business and industry which would increase the prices for things that you buy. As this research produces answers, we're going to put that information to work. And we'll keep working until we provide reliable protection for all our natural resources.

Each of us knows the thrill we get when we see an eagle in the mountains or a deer in the forest, and I'd like to tell you how we're trying to preserve the rich beauty and bounty of our lands and wildlife. We've added many miles to our National Trails System. And we've put scores of historic sites on the National Registries of Historical and Natural Landmarks. And to expand our National Wild and Scenic River System, we proposed adding 245 river miles along 8 different rivers.

We have a proposal that, if enacted by the Congress, will be the first comprehensive effort in our history to protect our nation's wetlands. And our Coastal Barriers Resources Act is already protecting large sections of our Gulf and Atlantic coasts, including more than 700 miles of dunes, beaches, and marshland.

To preserve our wildlife, we're working with the State of California to create a wildlife sanctuary that will protect thousands of seals and sea birds. In Texas, we're helping the State government at Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge to protect the whooping crane. And we've completed recovery plans for more than 80 endangered species. Today the California condor, the Atlantic salmon, the peregrine falcon, and many other magnificent creatures have a new chance to multiply and flourish and to be here to greet our great-grandchildren.

And this brings me to a measure that I know is close to your hearts particularly: our work to refurbish and beautify our national parks. Like everyone who's ever seen them, we view our national parks as the crown jewels of the American land. And when we took office, we reversed a decline in funding that had been going on for their upkeep and inaugurated a 5-year, billion-dollar effort to give our parks the improvements they so badly needed. And I'm delighted to announce that this vital program has proceeded so well that it will be finished in 1985, a full year ahead of schedule. From Independence Hall in Philadelphia to the Redwood Forest in California, our great national parks are getting the treatment they deserve. At Mammoth Cave National Park, our park restoration and improvement program has funded a universe of repairs and improvements. And I was just shown some of them a little while ago. Throughout the park, for example, cave trails and footpaths have been reworked to keep the caves accessible to their millions of visitors.

No treasure, I don't believe, means more to the American people than the Statue of Liberty. And right now, that grand lady in New York Harbor is getting special attention. With help from Lee Iacocca, the chairman of Chrysler, and his advisory commission, we've begun an effort to raise $230 million to give the statue and Ellis Island some sorely needed repairs. Already the American people have contributed a sizable amount.

And schoolchildren across this country have sent dimes and nickels that total more than a million dollars for this refurbishing job. The repairs will be completed in time for Miss Liberty's 100th birthday celebration on the Fourth of July, 1986. It's going to be quite a party, and you're all invited. Maybe we can announce that it's the greatest face-lift that's ever been given. [Laughter]

But just as we believe in preserving our natural heritage, we're committed to putting it to the best possible use for the American people. Today some 175 million Americans over the age of 12 regularly participate in outdoor recreation. That's a substantial increase over past decades. And as members of the NCHA, you won't be surprised to hear that some 46 million Americans are campers. But perhaps you didn't know that more than 50 million are boaters, and some 64 million are fishermen, and about a hundred million are swimmers.

Now, make no mistake, the American land belongs to the American people, and we intend to keep it open for the American people. You may remember that under past—well, over the years past, there's been—well, there were some efforts to deal with energy shortages by attempting to ration gas and trying to keep you from using your recreational vehicles, your RV's. At one point, the Department of Energy even proposed a Sunday ban on motorboating. Now, officials admitted that the ban would have very little effect on gas supplies. But they claimed that it would have symbolic value. Well, they were right about that. The proposal did symbolize a government that had grown a little arrogant and intrusive, a government that seemed to believe that the American people should be kept away from their own lakes, rivers, and parks.

Well, forgive me, but we take a different view. We believe the environment includes people and that they, now and always, have a right to enjoy the American land. But I'm happy also to say that under our energy policy, I don't think we should ever again face a severe shortage of gasoline. Indeed, when we decontrolled, oil prices—or oil supplies increased, and today the price of gas at the pump is actually lower than it was in 1981. But if we do face a gas shortage, this administration will never respond by trying to keep the American people from enjoying the great outdoors.

In short, we believe that you can be a friend to the people at the same time that you're a friend to the land. And we're convinced that working through the wonders of science and technology, the human mind can enable our economy to grow, providing new jobs for millions, while at the same time enhancing our precious natural resources. And on these principles we have proceeded and we shall continue to act as long as we hold office.

Three thousand years ago the psalmist wrote, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help." The American writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, whose 167th birthday we celebrate today, expressed a similar belief. "In wildness," he wrote, "is the preservation of the world." Well, today in this great open field, we know that those two writers, though separated by the centuries—what they both thought and felt.

Here in the open, close to the land, we feel refreshed and free. Here we see clearly what is important in life—the liberty our country offers, the love of our families and friends. And here it is that we're given a strong sense of the majesty of our Creator. I just have to believe that with love for our natural heritage and a firm resolve to preserve it with wisdom and care, we can and will give the American land to our children, not impaired, but enhanced. And in doing this, we'll honor the great and loving God who gave us this land in the first place.

I thank all of you for what you're doing. And God bless you all. And God bless America.

Mr. DeCabooter. Mr. President, the National Campers and Hikers Association, since it is a family camping organization, would like to present to you, President Ronald Reagan, and Mrs. Reagan—membership into the National Campers and Hikers Association.

The President. Thank you very much.

Mr. DeCabooter. And along with that, a little memento welcoming you to the National Campers and Hikers Campvention, 1984, Bowling Green, Kentucky.

The President. Thank you very much. I appreciate these and am honored by them.

I want you to know also I'm not a stranger to what it is that you love so much out there. As a matter of fact, I haven't had as many chances to do that now as I would like. But the last time I remember taking a pack trip into the High Sierras. And we had our small son along with us at the time, Nancy and I, and when we picked a place to stretch out our sleeping bags on the ground, he decided he was going over there between a couple of pine trees. And he went over there, and then we settled in.

And all of a sudden here he came—with his sleeping bag— [laughter] —and he put it down right by me. And then I heard the most wonderful words in the world. He says, "Well, here we are—all huddled around old dad." [Laughter]

Thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:12 p.m. at the Beech Bend Campground. In his opening remarks, he referred to Richard (Porky) DeCabooter, president of the National Campers and Hikers Association, who introduced the President and Secretary of the Interior William P. Clark.

Earlier in the day, the President was briefed on the park restoration and improvement program by Robert L. Deskins, Superintendent of Mammoth Cave National Park, and then was given a tour of a portion of Mammoth Cave.

Following his appearance at the gathering, the President returned to Washington, DC.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to the National Campers and Hikers Association in Bowling Green, Kentucky Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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