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Honorary National Park Ranger Gil Grosvenor

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National Geographic Chairman Gilbert M. Grosvenor has received many distinguished awards, including the highest U.S. civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

National Park Service Director Mary A. Bomar surprised Grosvenor yesterday with a new award in front of his colleagues and friends at National Geographic Society headquarters, in Washington, D.C.

She presented him with an Honorary National Park Ranger Award.

 

Photo by Robert L. Booth ©2008 National Geographic Society

“The men and women of the National Park Service have always been my heroes,” Grosvenor told me in a phone interview today. “This is a unique and special honor. It fulfils the legacy of commitment my grandfather and father made of National Geographic support for the national parks.”

Grosvenor said he had been visiting national parks since before his first memories. “I must have done, because both my grandfather and father were always visiting the parks, and they often took me along,” he said. “It’s been a lifelong pleasure for me to enjoy the parks.”

“Gilbert Grosvenor has made a lifetime commitment — instilled in him by his family — to preserving and protecting resources for future generations.” Bomar said during her presentation yesterday. “I proudly present this award to him with the congratulations and admiration of the 20,000 men and women of the National Park Service family.”

“I wish that my father and grandfather were here to see this,” Grosvenor said. “My only regret is that I couldn’t do more for national parks.”

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Photo by Mark Thiessen ©2008 National Geographic

But it was hard to imagine Grosvenor being able to do more, Bomar (in the photo with Grosvenor above) noted.

“During Mr. Grosvenor’s 55-year tenure at National Geographic, approximately 80 books and over 100 National Geographic Magazine feature stories and map supplements were published on America’s National Parks, including a book published in 2001 called ‘An American Idea: The Making of the National Parks’ with a forward by former President Jimmy Carter,” she said in a press statement about the award.

“In 1985 Mr. Grosvenor was asked by President Reagan to serve on the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors. As vice-chairman of the Commission, he participated in hearings from coast to coast listening to the concerns of the American public regarding the future of America’s outdoors. Mr. Grosvenor consistently advocated for increased funding to conserve greenways and buffer lands to expand the National Park System,” the statement elaborated.

“Park Ranger” is a title normally earned by a career of patrolling the back country, conducting interpretive tours for visitors, or maintaining the trails, campgrounds, and historic buildings within national parks. “The title of Honorary Ranger is bestowed on special friends and partners who demonstrate by virtue the same spirit of hard work and absolute dedication to the national parks.”

The Grosvenor family has a long history of leading the National Geographic Society. Grosvenor is the fifth generation of his family to have held the title of president of the society.

Through all those generations the Grosvenors have been formidable champions for the national parks.

This goes all the way back to when Gilbert H. Grosvenor, the first full-time editor of National Geographic magazine and later Society president, joined soon-to-be National Parks Conservation Association founder Stephen Mather (and first National Park Service director) on his famed 1915 Sierras camping trip, according to a National Geographic Society fact sheet on the special relationship between National Geographic and the national parks.

“Following that excursion, Grosvenor leveraged his own organization to help the national parks, publishing more than 100 photographs of America’s scenic wonders in the April 1916 ‘The Land of the Best’ issue of National Geographic magazine. This issue was used during congressional hearings and helped influence Congress’s decision to create the National Park Service and the park system that same year,” the fact sheet says.

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Gilbert M. Grosvenor with President George W. Bush, after Bush awarded Grosvenor the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Photo courtesy the Official Site of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Grosvenor was one of eleven recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004. His formal citation accompanying the award read: “Through his half century of work at the National Geographic Society, Gilbert Melville Grosvenor has helped make the world’s history, culture, and societies more accessible for all.

“As an accomplished journalist and the fifth generation of his family to serve as President of the Society, he has sustained a proud legacy of integrity and excellence. The United States honors Gilbert Melville Grosvenor for his lifetime of promoting exploration, research, and geography education.”

I asked Grosvenor what would be his one big wish for the national parks.

“They have not received their fair share of funding in the past decade,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if President Elect Obama chose to rehabilitate  our great National Parks System with a well-funded public works project. That would be my wish, to see us renew our commitment to what’s been described as one of America’s greatest ideas, a wonderful system of national parks that Americans will enjoy for many generations to come.”