Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Take Pride in America Awards

 

July 21, 1987

 

Well, I appreciate your presence here today and deeply appreciate all that many of you have been doing to ensure that our countrymen continue to enjoy the richness and beauty of America. There's a story I like to tell, and I've told it an awful lot of times, but I hope I haven't told it to any of you.

 

It has to do with an old farmer who picked up some creek-bottom land. It was all covered with rocks and overgrown with brush, but he set to work. And he hauled the rocks away, and he cleaned the brush. And he cultivated, and he fertilized, and he planted. And he had a garden spot. And one day at church, he asked the preacher if he wouldn't, after church, come on out and see what he'd done. Well, the Reverend got out there, and he looked at that corn. And he said, ``I've never seen such corn. My,'' he said, ``how the Lord has blessed this land. Those melons -- I've never seen anything so big.'' He said, ``God has certainly been good to this place here.'' And he went on that way, and the old boy was getting a little fidgety. And finally, he says, ``Reverend, I wish you could have seen it when the Lord was doing it by Himself.'' [Laughter]

 

Well, today we're honoring praiseworthy citizens who are giving God a hand in preserving our precious gifts. Unlike the farmer in the story, more often than not, those we honor today are protecting our land from some of mankind's more wasteful and destructive ways. Some of America's greatest assets are, of course, the parks, national forests, and other public lands that have been set aside for the benefit and enjoyment of our people and for future generations. When one thinks of America, one thinks of purple mountain majesties, of bald eagles, of natural beauty, and of great halls where our ancestors gathered to lay the foundations of our democracy.

 

We take pride in our freedom, and we also take pride in the natural grandeur of our land. And there's much to be proud of. We have in our country the world's first and best national park system, national forests and wildlife refuges, an extraordinary urban park system, and preserved historic sites. And all this is the legacy of caring individuals, perhaps like the ones we honor today, who acted to see that these treasures were preserved and passed on. Our administration has been solidly committed to the restoration and maintenance of this inheritance. In the past 6 1/2 years, we've spent $1 billion to restore our national parks, which had been permitted to fall in some disrepair over a period of time. In the past 6 1/2 years, as I say, we've done that, and we've strictly upheld laws protecting our endangered species and have vigorously pursued plans to recover them. We've moved to stem the serious loss of vital wetlands, and we've set aside millions of acres of wilderness, created 29 new wildlife refuges, and protected thousands of miles of scenic rivers and trails.

 

One of the hallmarks of our administration has been the concerted effort we've made to mobilize the American people, to get them involved in helping each other and in community building projects instead of just waiting for government. We call it our private sector initiatives program. When Secretary Hodel came to me with the idea of a Take Pride in America campaign, I thought it was terrific. If we really rely -- or totally rely on government, whether in conserving our public lands or in any other worthy endeavors, the job is not going to get done. Public land managers have a tough assignment, and they take their responsibility seriously, yet I'm certain they will verify that there can be no greater boon to the conservation and preservation of America's national treasures than the active involvement of the American people. This is what the Take Pride in America campaign is all about.

 

It was some 20 years ago when Lady Bird Johnson first brought this issue to the American people. We owe her a debt of gratitude, and I think we can show her our appreciation under this campaign. Today we recognize individuals and organizations who are doers, who are protecting what belongs to all Americans. And with this, we reaffirm that preserving our parks and public lands is important to us. Our message to anyone who would trash or vandalize our public lands has been forcefully stated -- and that may be putting it mildly -- by some of the distinguished celebrities that were with us today. Those who would reduce the natural beauty of our land had better pay attention: ``They either clean up their act or get out of town!'' [Laughter] Just in case some people don't take us seriously, we've enlisted Lou Gosset, Clint Eastwood, and Charlie Bronson, who couldn't be here -- but for them to give those other people the message.

 

I want to thank our celebrities and each and every one of you for the role that you are playing. I know the Ad Council has given time to send the word over the airwaves and across the country, and they deserve a special thanks. And so, too, do Secretaries Bennett, Hodel, and Lyng who -- well, they, too, have given us inspiring and energetic leadership.

 

And today, we've selected 38 recipients for our Take Pride in America Award. They've been selected from over 500 nominees. Let me suggest, however, that all those who contribute their time and effort are winners. And clearly, our country is the greatest winner of all. And this is the first time this award ceremony, or a part of it, has been held here at the White House. I think it underscores how important we feel this issue is. And our citizens need to know that they can and should make a difference. Could I ask the 38 award winners to stand? [Applause] And that's what the rest of us will do, is applaud you. You have made a difference, and we do all applaud you.

 

And thank you all. God bless you. And I'll bet it won't take you long to get back in the shade, will it? [Laughter] I'm heading there right now.

 

Note: The President spoke at 1:29 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Secretary of the Interior Donald Paul Hodel, Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, and Secretary of Agriculture Richard Lyng.