(CN) - "Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt."
My off-the-cuff statement became a mantra as we made our way through Yellowstone National Park.
Though Roosevelt neither designated Yellowstone as a national park (that honor goes to Ulysses S. Grant) nor signed the legislation creating the National Park Service (Woodrow Wilson), Teddy is remembered as "the conservation president."
He doubled the number of sites within the system, signing legislation that created five new national parks, including Crater Lake in Oregon and Wind Cave in South Dakota. He is also the only president to have a national park named after him: the Theodore Roosevelt National Park lies in North Dakota, where the great plains meet the badlands.
My companion on the park visit thought it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "that New Deal guy" as she called him, who created the park service. I knew that was wrong, and that the first president named Roosevelt had a large impact on our national conservation effort, but I mistakenly thought he was responsible for the creation of the park service. Perhaps we should be thanking Grant, or even Wilson, but I believe our mantra was symbolically, if not technically, appropriate.
Teddy did sign the Antiquities Act. The sometimes controversial law has allowed Roosevelt and successive presidents to proclaim national monuments, a power used to protect vast and varied landmarks and structures including prehistoric Native American ruins and artifacts, Muir Woods in Northern California – home to an old-growth coast redwood grove – and, more recently, a vast swath of the Northern Woods in Maine, which this bureau chief covered (in what he hopes is the only political opinion column he ever writes), a vast expansion of a marine monument first designated by former President George W. Bush near the Hawaiian Islands and the Atlantic's first marine monument.
While traveling the West, Roosevelt lamented the near-eradication of native species, including bison and elk, and the loss of forests and other fragile ecosystems.
He wanted to visit the untamed lands of the West not only to enjoy the splendor but, as an avid sportsman, to hunt big game before they disappeared.
Though many people in his day considered natural resources inexhaustible, Roosevelt, for his part, wrote, "We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation."
We began our journey into the park from the suddenly gentrified city of Bozeman, Montana, approximately a 90-minute drive from an entrance in the northwestern corner the park.