Remarks Prepared for Delivery

By The Honorable Gale Norton

Secretary of the Interior

Take Pride in America

April 16, 2003

 

Admit it . . . you’re jealous.

 

You are asking yourself, “Why does she get to wear blue jeans, and I don’t?”

 

I am wearing these blue jeans and this admittedly fancy work shirt because I will join a group who will devote this afternoon to taking pride in America…one park at a time.

 

Together with Washington, D.C. Deputy Mayor Herbert Tillery, volunteers from the United Methodist Church, and a neighborhood group called Natural Leaders, we will be in Anacostia, at Watts Branch Park.  There, we will plant trees, lay mulch, pick up trash and help reclaim an urban park, once notorious for being a drug-users hangout.

 

By working with fellow volunteers – young and old, Republican and Democrat -- we lend our hands to heal our land, one acre at a time.  And in so doing, we are celebrating the kickoff of the national, grassroots, bipartisan Take Pride in America program.

 

Today we launch this program not just with words, but with our hands, so fitting for a program whose theme is: “It’s Your Land, Lend A Hand.”

 

Take Pride In America, a national partnership, empowers volunteers from every corner of America to enhance our parks, wildlife refuges, recreation areas and cultural and historic sites.  The program inspires citizen stewardship through a bold and innovative public information campaign. 

 

Outstanding volunteer efforts are rewarded with presidential recognition.  The program works with governors, and other partners, to launch volunteer conservation projects.

 

With me today are bright stars of the volunteer movement. We have John Corcoran, who has donated more than 16,000 hours using his inventory and mapping skills.  He has documented Fort Stanton Cave National Natural Landmark in New Mexico, providing more than fifty percent of what we know about the extent of this cave.

 

 

 

We also have Anastacia Hernando with us, who has dedicated an equal number of volunteer hours at Salem Maritime National Historic Site in Massachusetts, over the last 17 years.   She keeps the building and outside exhibits clean and orderly and welcoming to visitors.  Anastacia is in her 80s—but it’s  still hard for our young park rangers to keep up with her.

 

Joining us as well is a different sort of star.  I like to think his celebrity comes from being a rancher and conservationist in my home state of Colorado.  He has already been recognized by the Colorado Division of Wildlife as “Landowner of the Year” for his efforts to improve wildlife habitat.  But I’m told people know him better from television shows like “NYPD Blue.”

 

He is here to be one of the leaders of this effort as a member of our Blue Ribbon Panel.

 

It is my great pleasure to recognize the actor, conservationist and rancher—Rick Schroder. 

 

Of course there is another rancher we all know—President George Bush.  He is passionate about his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

 

Take Pride In America is part of the President’s USA Freedom Corps, dedicated to fostering a culture of service to others.

 

Like the USA Freedom Corps, Take Pride in America functions as a clearinghouse for volunteer activities under the auspices of many different organizations.  It will serve as a rallying point to attract volunteers, who can then be matched with the activity that most fires their imagination.

 

As the President has said, “Good stewardship of the environment is not just a personal responsibility, it is a public value…(It) is our responsibility as citizens…it is our calling as stewards of the earth.”

 

The Take Pride in America program honors good stewardship.   It recognizes those who work on our public lands and will be a force in dramatically increasing volunteers.

 

These volunteers work so that riverbanks remain wildlife refuges, not dumps.  They protect artifacts that are a part of

the mosaic of our history.  And they teach children what they don’t learn in textbooks.

 

This program is already starting to catch fire.

 

 

 

 

More than 100 companies and trade associations have signed on to be Charter partners in Take Pride in America.  These Charter Partners are committing to specific projects that better the environment in their communities.  Derrick Crandall of the American Recreation Coalition has helped recruit some of these partners.

 

Let’s talk about specific contributions.  The Walt Disney Company is volunteering their creative magic. They have committed a half-million hours of employee time to work on public lands to help support this campaign. 

 

They also have helped us design a special kids section on the Take Pride in America website to give kids tips on how to get involved.  Senior Vice President Kym Murphy is here. 

 

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will soon launch a centennial grant program for refuges totaling nearly $1 million.  These awards will honor Take Pride efforts to boost volunteerism in the national refuge system.

 

Another charter partner, the National Geographic Society has committed to hold thousands of wildlife habitat and gardening events in schools across the nation in cooperation with Take Pride in America.

 

Yet another partner, the Professional Paddlesports Association will take 10,000 children on their first canoe, kayak or rafting trip.  This commitment brings children outdoors and shows them a world far beyond television and video games. 

 

We will deliberately engage young Americans in the program. One of our goals is to reach out to inner-city and urban kids, as demonstrated by our first such action today at Anacostia.

 

We are already involved in a program called Wonderful Outdoor World that gives inner city, disadvantaged kids the chance to experience the outdoor world.  It is an active partnership among youth organizations like the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, the City Park agencies, all Federal land agencies and the recreation industry.

 

The program combines the fun of outdoor camping and recreation like fishing, with environmental education and community service—such as picking up trash in parks.

 

Working with these students conveys the message that they can improve the environment of their own neighborhoods—working on local parks or ball fields, or historical sites.  We also want them to experience the outdoors –and know that their inherited wealth includes all the rivers, forests and mountains—all of value, and all deserving their care.

Hiking and biking are becoming more and more popular. While most trail users are responsible and caring in their outdoor pursuits, the misuse has left trails badly in need of repair.  We hope to work with trail user groups to restore trails.

 

This program benefits all public lands.  To show their support for Take Pride, we have with us today, Mark Rey with the Agriculture Department, George Dunlop with the Army Corps of Engineers and Emil Frankel from the Transportation Department.

 

So how does the Take Pride in America program work?   A Blue Ribbon Panel will identify national projects, raise funds, and spread the word that our public lands are places to cherish.

 

These efforts will be assisted by our Charter Partners, who will use their combined networks of millions of members and customers, thousands of magazines and newsletter and websites; and countless annual meetings and events to communicate the Take Pride in America message to the public.  There are a number of our Charter Partners in the audience, and I would ask all of them to stand.

 

Take Pride in America operates at the State level.  We will ask Governors to identify a state volunteer coordinator.  By establishing formal partnership agreements with states, federal and state land managers can identify volunteer opportunities and enlist public service commitments from citizens.

 

I said before, this program is catching fire.  I am pleased to announce that Governor Dirk Kempthorne, the Republican Governor of Idaho, and Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona have agreed to be Co-chairs of the Council of Governors.

 

We are also well underway in naming our Blue Ribbon Panel of advisors who already include:

 

This program is destined for great accomplishments.  Its model is a highly successful program from the Reagan and Bush Administrations.  That program was responsible for encouraging more than 10 million volunteer hours at a taxpayer savings of $146 million.

 

Like the program we are starting today, almost all the states got involved, as did some of the Territories.  Idaho, for example, launched an anti-litter campaign where 15,000 Idahoans in 75 communities gathered 135,000 bags of trash.

 

Now that is Taking Pride in Idaho.

 

Since we are here at the National Press Club, I should also mention that under the old Take Pride program, there were media groups that got involved.

 

WJBK-TV in Detroit won so many Take-Pride-in-America awards they finally had to put them into a Hall of Fame in 1991.

 

The station was the driving force behind the “Rouge River Rescue.”  When they began their efforts, the Rouge River was one of the most polluted waterways in the country.  It was treated as a dumping ground for old refrigerators, cars, furniture, and grocery carts. 

 

Together with Gannett Outdoors, Ford Division and Friends of the Rouge, WJBK sponsored a day-long river cleanup.  Every June for at least five years, some 2,000 volunteers cleaned the river banks and bottoms.  Schools of fish and other wildlife returned to the river and wetlands were restored.  The message delivered by WJBK was:  “This is your river, your responsibility.”

 

The station used its visibility to promote responsibility and stewardship.

 

At Interior we know about stewardship, partnerships and volunteers.  Our Department manages more than one-fifth of the land in the United States.

 

Our 70,000 employees are hardworking and dedicated.  Their efforts are supplemented by 200,000 volunteers.

 

Volunteers help maintain and sustain our national parks, wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries.  They serve as campground hosts, clear trails, help with seasonal bird surveys, and collect new information for maps.  We couldn’t do a good job without them.

 

The high quality work they perform allows us to offer more services to the American people. Last year, volunteers for the Bureau of Land Management, the Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service provided service valued at about $100 million.

 

Now that is lending a hand.

 

Think what we could do with 500,000 volunteers.

 

It was my great pleasure today to thank ten remarkable volunteers.  Each of these individuals donated more than 4,000 hours to bettering a park, refuge or acre of our public lands.  In fact, some recorded more than 16,000 hours—a figure as astonishing as it is commendable.

 

While specific tasks performed have varied with their interests, a common bond is they love this land, and they share a commitment to their fellow citizens.  The volunteers here today received the first of our Freedom Corps/Take Pride awards for volunteerism.

 

Once again, our sincere and deep thanks to you.  As exceptional as these individuals are, they are joined by many others across this land.  Interior has more than 1,000 volunteers who have each contributed 4,000 hours.

 

Of course, it is important to put this all into context.  All of us are transfixed by watching international events unfold on television.

 

We noted after the tragedy of September 11, that the refuges, National Parks and other public lands in this Nation have the capacity to bring healing and hope to the spirit.  That is just as true as we deal with the War in Iraq.

 

One way to draw on that hope and strength is to get involved with the country we love.

 

When we see what our troops are doing to serve the principles of freedom, it encourages all of us to think of issues larger than ourselves.  That is why this Take Pride in America program is important to all of us.

 

Under the new Take Pride in America program any volunteer with 4,000 hours will earn Presidential level recognition. 

 

Take Pride in America gives the Freedom Corps a new outlet for American altruism.  It will give volunteers an opportunity to keep sanctuaries and refuges teeming with wildlife—and to make sure that parks are cleaned and graffiti is wiped away and stopped—or to clean a vacant lot for softball.

 

I look forward to being a part of this new program, this cooperative conservation that involves citizen stewards on the land.

 

What can you do?  Well, it is a great day outside.

We have extra T shirts.

 

Anacostia could use more helpers.

 

Join us, lend a hand.

 

President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

 

Take Pride in America is an opportunity to work hard at work worth doing.  Remember,  It’s your land, lend a hand.”

Thank you.