President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and the First Daughters — Sasha and Malia Obama — landed in Roswell, New Mexico on Friday to begin a working vacation designed to incorporate promotion of the National Park Service and their 2016 centennial celebrations. The Obama family decided to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park first, then flew to California with plans to visit Yosemite National Park over what is Father’s Day weekend in the United States.
The Obama family’s Carlsbad Caverns visit in New Mexico lasted about two hours on Friday, according to the New York Times. The Obamas plan to devote the majority of the weekend to a private family Father’s Day celebration, and will leave Yosemite on Sunday afternoon to return to Washington, D.C.
President Obama’s social media and press teams made sure to broadcast the message that like previous Obama family vacations to national parks, the Carlsbad Caverns and Yosemite trip is also about reminding tourists of the opportunity to visit national parks, as well as about reminding Americans of the importance of environmental conservation — and pushing for action on climate change, a serious focus of the president’s final year in office.
“I want to make sure that the American people are able to enjoy the incredible national parks, the incredible beauty, the mountains, the oceans that have been one of the greatest gifts that we’ve ever received. And I want to make sure that the whole world is able to pass on to future generations the God-given beauty of this planet.”
The Obama family visit to Carlsbad Caverns National Park included a tour of the Big Room, the fifth-largest natural limestone chamber in the world. Entering the chamber requires the use of an elevator that descends 754 feet, which Reuters reports took eight shifts to transport the entirety of the Obama family’s Secret Service entourage. President Obama seemed thoroughly impressed with the visually stunning caverns, exclaiming, “How cool is this?” and, “Spectacular!” as he and the First Lady peppered their tour guide with questions. Sasha and Malia Obama, the latter of whom graduated from high school one week ago Friday, remained quiet and respectful as they toured the caverns.
The Obama family’s national parks visit will include a presidential presser on Saturday that uses the natural beauty of Yosemite as a backdrop. This is likely at least partially intended to draw attention to the severe drought that has been plaguing California over the past several years and the losses that could result from it, in conjunction with the trip’s additional focus on climate change. Reuters also mentions that the Obama family’s national parks trip is intended in part to spotlight the president’s plan to further reduce carbon emissions.
“The White House has said the changing climate evidenced by droughts, increased flooding and wildfires and stronger storms has put national parks at risk.”
President Obama’s remarks at Yosemite will probably remind Americans that he has made environmental conservation a significant part of his presidential legacy through his use of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to unilaterally declare national monuments. He has added 20 sites to the national park system, thereby giving protected status to 265 million acres of public land and water. In so doing, President Obama has protected more land and water combined than any other president.
The Yosemite remarks from President Obama may also contain a push for funding, as the National Park Service has been underfunded by Congress for several years according to the Desert Sun. The National Park Service, which is overseen by the United States Department of the Interior, reported a $12 billion maintenance backlog in its 2016 annual report this past February.
United States Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell told press that national parks visits are on the rise, and while the 307 million visits in 2015 broke the record, the visits so far in 2016 are on track to break that record again. She added that this tourism contributed an estimated $300 billion to the economy, supporting about 2 million jobs.
Yosemite National Park, set within California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, was established on October 1, 1890. Carlsbad Caverns National Park is significantly newer, having not been established until May 14, 1930.
The United States National Park Service centennial is officially in August 2016.
[Image courtesy of Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]