Forty years ago today, President Gerald Ford delivered a speech in front of Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park.
It was not the president’s first time in the Park. Indeed, in 1936, following his graduation from the University of Michigan and forty years before returning to the Park to speak as president, Ford worked for a summer as a park ranger, a job he cherished and one he discussed in his “Remarks at Yellowstone National Park In Wyoming”:
For many families it means one last chance to get out of town, out into the sun, under the stars, close to nature’s beauties and nature’s creatures. For me this is a moment that I have been looking forward to for a long, long time–to return to Yellowstone where I spent one of the greatest summers of my life. Being a seasonal park ranger–we used to call them 90-day wonders, maybe they still do–[laughter]–was one of the most challenging experiences, one of the greatest jobs I ever had following my graduation from the University of Michigan. Now it seems more like fun than hard work, though we had plenty of both.
According to the Yellowstone Park Foundation, one of Ford’s duties was working as an armed guard on a bear feeding truck, back when bear feeding was a common Yellowstone activity. Jokingly, Ford told the crowd that, “maybe I overdid those bedtime stories” told to his children about his time as a ranger, but something about them stuck. Indeed, son Jack Ford went on to become a park ranger in Yellowstone.
Ford’s speech carried significance beyond his own personal experience. He was speaking during America’s Bicentennial, and his speech at Old Faithful highlighted every aspect of Yellowstone’s vast treasures, which every American should cherish.
Accordingly, as Ford spoke of American treasures, Old Faithful started erupting, to the delight of both the President and the crowd, as you can see in the photo at the top. “I always knew the Park Service was efficient and effective, and they really proved it just a moment ago,” Ford quipped, as Old Faithful’s plume rocketed up.
President Ford also discussed national business during his speech, saying the Bicentennial should serve as more than a reflection of 200 years of nationhood and the meaning thereof; the Bicentennial, the President urged, should inspire commitment to future Americans—commitments like the further preservation (and expansion) of the national park system. From Ford’s speech:
We have had a wonderful Bicentennial. We celebrated what our patriotic founders and our immigrant ancestors handed down to us. We renewed our vows to their vision of freedom and equality. But I found myself saying we ought to do more. Can’t we do something special, as our Bicentennial birthday present to future generations, a gift that will be gratefully remembered 100 years from now? We can.
I, therefore, decided upon a 10-year national commitment to double America’s heritage of national parks, recreation areas, wildlife sanctuaries, urban parks, and historic sites.
I will send to the Congress, Tuesday, a Bicentennial Land Heritage Act, which calls for a pledge of $1,500 million during the next 10 years. It will more than double our present acreage of land for national parks, recreation areas, and wildlife sanctuaries; beginning development of these new lands to make them accessible and enjoyable; improving facilities and increasing dedicated personnel at existing national parks; making available $200 million for urban parks; bringing the benefits of nature to those who live in our cities; and accelerating the development of parklands and sanctuaries now delayed for lack of manpower and of money.
This national commitment means we may have to tighten our belts elsewhere a bit, but it is the soundest investment in the future of America that I can envision. We must act now to prevent the loss of treasures that can never be replaced for ourselves, our children, and for future generations of Americans.
In case you were wondering, U.S. Senator Henry M. Jackson (D-WA) cosponsored the Bicentennial Land Heritage Act when it was introduced to the Senate September 7, 1976. According to Congress.gov, the bill never made it out of committee.
President Ford closed out his speech by referring back to his ranger days, and called once more for Yellowstone to be preserved:
I remember as a ranger the first time I stood alone on Inspiration Point over at Canyon Station looking out over this beautiful land. I thought to myself how lucky I was that my parents’ and grandparents’ generation had the vision and the determination to save it for us.
Now it is our turn to make our own gift outright to those who will come after us, 15 years, 40 years, 100 years from now. I want to be as faithful to my grandchildren’s generation as Old Faithful has been to ours. What better way can we add a new dimension to our third century of freedom?
Thank you very much.