If you thought President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama got a lot of attention for their romantic, if expensive, date in New York City, where they took in a show and ate a sustainable meal, then just wait for the First Family's weekend getaway out West.
The Obamas will visit at least two national parks -- Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon -- taking advantage of the National Park Service's last "no-fee" weekend of the year.
Advocates for national parks have been ecstatic about the vacation choice, and they're using it as a vehicle for making a point: Paying money to protect land in new parks is way sexier than paying to maintain all the great parks past politicians have protected. "There is an approximate $600-million annual operating shortfall and a backlog of maintenance projects that exceeds $8 billion, and more than $2 billion of private land to be acquired within park boundaries," said Ron Tipton, senior vice president for policy at the National Parks Conservation Association. "We must ensure our national parks are well funded to address the parks' crumbling historic buildings and trails, enhance the Park Service's ability to protect wildlife, and provide needed public education and services."
In addition to visiting some national parks, Obama will soon be a national park. (No, he isn't being carved into Mount Rushmore.) But Antigua just re-named Boggy Peak, its tallest mountain, Mount Obama, and plans to make the 1,300-foot mountain a national park.
Stateside, the first national park designated during Obama's presidency was the Great Falls National Park, in Paterson, N.J., which will not only open to the public the second-largest waterfall in the Northeast (other than Niagara) but also tell the story of the nation's industrialization. (Like many East Coast rivers and streams, the Passaic River powered early industry, like silk-making, and also remains highly polluted as a result.)
In signing the law that will make Great Falls a national park, Obama invoked the words of Theodore Roosevelt, whom he called "our greatest conservationist President." Also in the Rough Rider spirit, Obama will use the presidential bully pulpit (a T-Rex coinage) while on his family vacation, not only to promote national parks vacations, but also by holding several town hall-style meetings on the debate of the day, health care reform.
Be thankful you don't have to discuss politics on your vacation, and follow the Obamas' lead in planning a vacation to a national park. Our related links will give you plenty of inspiration.
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