During a visit to the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center on Thursday, August 19, Gale Norton, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, urged “Cascade Mountain Magic” convention attendees to be proactive in preserving America’s public lands.
The secretary’s appearance capped off a busy day that began in Coburg, Oregon, where she toured the manufacturing facilities of Monaco Coach Corporation, C2111. She was accompanied by Marti Allbright, executive director of the Take Pride in America program; David J. Humphreys, president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association; and Derrick Crandall, president of the American Recreation Coalition.
On Thursday afternoon the secretary and other officials traveled to Redmond, Oregon, site of FMCA’s 72nd International Convention, aboard a Monaco Dynasty motorhome. Upon arriving the group toured the indoor and outdoor exhibit areas, and Secretary Norton met with Congressman Greg Walden, who represents the Second Congressional District of Oregon. They spoke briefly with members of the press in an informal media session.
FMCA president R.G. Wilson introduced the dignitaries to FMCA members just prior to Thursday’s evening entertainment program. The secretary expounded on the Department of the Interior’s activities and the Take Pride in America volunteerism program.
In her remarks to the FMCA audience, the secretary called RVing “a great way” to explore America’s public lands. “These lands are an important part of what makes America such a great place. In these troubled times, the recreational vehicle is a way to experience that special freedom that makes us all Americans.”
The secretary noted that the Department of the Interior manages one out of every five acres of land in the United States. “We have the national parks, the wildlife refuges, the multiple-use lands, wilderness areas “” so many of the beautiful areas of this country.” She described America’s national parks as the real gems of America. “They are most beloved by vacationers and nature lovers from all walks of life and from all over the globe.” Last year, almost 2.5 million RVers visited U.S. national parks, she said.
The secretary discussed the current state of the national parks. She noted that one of President George W. Bush’s highest priorities for the Department of the Interior is improving park facilities, including reducing maintenance backlogs. She noted that he has made a commitment to invest $4.9 billion over five years for this purpose.
“We have more funding today per acre, per employee, and per visitor, than ever before in the history of the National Park Service,” she said.
The secretary noted that since 2001 the Department of the Interior has invested more than $29 million in Oregon alone on 45 separate projects at four national park service areas: Crater Lake, John Day Fossil Beds, Fort Clatsop, and Oregon Caves National Monument. At Crater Lake $18 million is being spent on projects, including the park’s Mazama Campground, where rest rooms are being renovated and rendered handicapped-accessible.
“Our most exciting development in Oregon began 200 years ago,” she added. “Lewis and Clark made their way here in the country’s very first cross-country trip. We have supported the creation of a new national park that will cover both Oregon and Washington and includes those historic places where Lewis and Clark came on their journey. Next year, when we have the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark arriving on their venture, we will have a national park, if Congress acts quickly as we have asked them to do, to provide a wonderful experience for visitors.”
Secretary Norton cited improvements currently under way at Yellowstone National Park, which include major sewer system renovations and restoration of the historic Old Faithful Inn. She noted that Yellowstone has been removed from the endangered World Heritage Site list.
The secretary praised National Park Service employees who are restoring and repairing facilities across the country. “We have undertaken or completed over 4,000 projects. When you visit, you’ll see improved trails, rehabilitated visitor centers, restored historic buildings, and more accessible campgrounds.” She added that this year the park service has 800 more employees than in 2000.
Secretary Norton noted that the department has requested a highway bill, currently under consideration in Congress, which would double the funding for roads in U.S. national parks. “Repair and maintenance of a park system that is as large as the 11 smallest states all put together is an unending task,” she added. “And there are staffing shortages at some of the parks. That’s why the president has asked Congress for additional money to hire new rangers.”
The secretary emphasized that all citizens bear a responsibility for taking care of and protecting our public lands. “One-third of our nation belongs to all of us, to the American people,” she said.
“Our parks are entrusted to Americans as a priceless inheritance to be cared for and handed down to future generations.”
Secretary Norton discussed the Take Pride in America volunteer program, a national partnership established by the Department of the Interior that recognizes volunteers who work to improve public parks, forests, grasslands, reservoirs, wildlife refuges, cultural and historic sites, local playgrounds, and other recreation areas, at the national, state, and local levels. “Take Pride … recognizes all of those wonderful people who already volunteer on our public lands. And I’m sure that many of you do that,” she said. She recalled the many RVers she’s seen around the country who have spent weeks or even months volunteering as campground hosts, or assuming other duties such as assisting visitors in identifying bird species or running bookstores.
It’s also important to involve the next generation in this effort, she added. “We want to get young people involved in knowing that they need to take responsibility for their public lands.”
In addition, the secretary said that Take Pride executive director Marti Allbright has been working with officials within the recreation industry and elsewhere to make sure the word gets out about the Take Pride in America program, as well as the spirit of volunteerism. “So, I ask all of you: please take pride and help wherever your travels take you.”
Secretary Norton was sworn in as the 48th Secretary of the Interior in January 2001, becoming the first woman to head the 154-year-old department, which oversees eight major government bureaus, including the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the National Park Service. This past June, the American Recreation Coalition presented her with the 16th annual Sheldon Coleman Great Outdoors Award, which recognizes individuals whose personal efforts have contributed substantially to enhancing outdoor experiences in America.
To learn more about the Take Pride in America program, including volunteer opportunities across the country, visit www.takepride.gov; write to Take Pride in America, 1849 C St. N.W., Room 3459, Washington, DC 20240; or phone (202) 208-5848.