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Looking Back: The Dedication of Shenandoah National Park

7/1/2014

On July 3, 1936, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated Shenandoah National Park.

Roosevelt delivered this dedication speech at Big Meadows:

In every part of the country, local and state and federal authorities are engaged in preserving and developing our heritage of natural resources; and in this work they are also conserving our priceless heritage of human values by giving to hundreds of thousands of men the opportunity of making an honest living.

I saw this work in progress when I was here two years ago. I have seen it in progress in many other parts of the land; and so I can say, from first-hand evidence, that the product of the labor of the men of the Civilian Conservation Corps, who have opened the Shenandoah National Park and other parks to the use and enjoyment of our citizens, is as significant as though instead of working for the Government they had been working in a mill or in a factory. They have a right to be as proud of their labor here as if they had been engaged in private employment.

In bygone years we have seen, and even we of this generation have seen, the terrible tragedy of our age, the tragedy of waste —waste of our people, waste of our land. It was neither the will nor the destiny of our Nation that this waste of human and material resources should continue any longer. That was the compelling reason that led us to put our idle people to the task of ending the waste of our land.

The involuntary idleness of thousands of young men ended three years ago when they came here to the camps on the Blue Ridge. Since then they have not been idle. Today they have ended more than their own idleness, they have ended the idleness of the Shenandoah National Park. It will be a busy and useful place in the years to come, just as the work of these young men will, I am confident, lead them to busy and useful lives in the years to come.

Our country is going to need many other young men as they come to manhood, need them for work like this—for other Shenandoahs.

Is it a dream? Shall I perhaps be accused of an exaggerated passion for planning if I paint for you a picture? You who are here know of the great usefulness to humanity which this Skyline Drive achieves from now on, of the greater usefulness which its extension, south through Virginia and North Carolina and Tennessee to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, will achieve.

In almost every other part of the country there is a similar need for recreational areas, for parkways which will give to men and women of moderate means the opportunity, the invigoration and the luxury of touring and camping amid scenes of great natural beauty like this.

All across the Nation—and it is three thousand miles—at this time of the year, and in many parts of the Nation at all times of the year, people are starting out for their vacations in national and State parks. Those people will put up at roadside camps or pitch their tents under the stars, with an open fire to cook by, with the smell of the woods, and the wind in the trees. They will forget the rush and the strain of all the other long weeks of the year, and for a short time at least, the days will be good for their bodies and good for their souls. Once more they will lay hold of the perspective that comes to men and women who every morning and every night can lift up their eyes to Mother Nature.

There is merit for all of us in the ancient tale of the giant Antaeus, who, every time he touched his Mother Earth, arose with strength renewed a hundredfold.

This Park, therefore, together with its many sisters which are coming to completion in every part of our land, is in the largest sense a work of conservation. Through all of them we are preserving the beauty and the wealth of the hills and the mountains and the plains and the trees and the streams. Through all of them we are maintaining useful work for our young men. Through all of them we are enriching the character and the happiness of our people.

We seek to pass on to our children a richer land—a stronger Nation.

And so, my friends, I now take great pleasure in dedicating Shenandoah National Park, dedicating it to this and succeeding generations of Americans for the recreation and for the re-creation which they shall find here.



Citation: Franklin D. Roosevelt: "Address at the Dedication of Shenandoah National Park.," July 3, 1936.

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The National Park Service turned 100 in 2016.