“Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it you’ve got to start young.” -Theodore Roosevelt
Happy 158th Birthday Teddy Roosevelt!
Did you know? Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, has the largest presidential memorial in DC; an 88.5 acre island located in the middle of the Potomac between DC and Virginia. He is not the official “father” of the National Park Service but Teddy Roosevelt was an active conservationist and fought for protection of the environment at the turn of the century, a time when industry and infrastructure drove Americans’ passion and greed. His actions and ideals inspire people to this day, over 100 years later, to become better citizens, better conservationists, and better leaders.
George Washington Memorial Parkway honored Roosevelt’s birthday on Make a Difference Day (October 22nd this year) to combine service with celebration. This entire event was a wonderful example of how much is on offer in our National Parks to the public. The day started with an invasive species removal project of 500 feet of trail on the West side of the
island. There were about 15 volunteers, in addition to the 2 staff. Most of the participants were returning volunteers or members of Friends of Theodore Roosevelt Island, the friends group of the memorial, but a few of the volunteers were new to invasive species removal. They enjoyed their day spending a few hours, pruning, clipping, and ripping plants out of the ground to save native species.
After the service project, families and groups of friends began to wander onto the plaza which by noon was lined with tents and vendors. I was personally very pleased to see young people, both of the childhood and millennial variety. There was birdhouse making, fitness games, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry demonstrations, ranger programs, tours of the island, and best of all Theodore Roosevelt himself! Present for the full day of activities was one of the leading reenactors of Theodore Roosevelt. He looked remarkably akin to Roosevelt but also was incredibly engaging, speaking boisterously, placing his hat on young kids’ heads, and happy to pose for a photograph over and over again. While this second portion of the day was not volunteer focused, there were so many children present that hopefully our interactions with them (and Roosevelt’s playful and enthusiastic calls to stewardship) inspired them to return to their National Parks and play; then one day learn, serve, and work, as Sally Jewell wishes of all Americans on their public lands.
This was really a very fun day to volunteer and to work in my park. Roosevelt has always been a favorite president of mine and meeting the reenactor was probably more exhilarating for me than for the children honestly. My park is so spread out (down the length of the Potomac) that it can be hard to feel a connection to every site along its 27 miles. This service day and celebration, gave me a greater appreciation of Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Island, allowed me to meet some of our newest volunteers and watch the eyes of children and parents light up with excitement for the past and the future that their parks brought to them; and that is pretty cool.
P.S. Yesterday was Roosevelt’s actual birthday!!
Quinn Conlan, Centennial Volunteer Ambassador, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Virginia