This day in history, January 11, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national monument.
By the end of the 19th century, the Grand Canyon was attracting thousands of tourists each year. One visitor was President Theodore Roosevelt, a New Yorker with a particular affection for the American West. After becoming president in 1901, Roosevelt made environmental conservation a major part of his presidency. After establishing the National Wildlife Refuge to protect the country’s animals, fish and birds, Roosevelt turned his attention to federal regulation of public lands.
Though a region could be given national park status–indicating that all private development on that land was illegal–only by an act of Congress, Roosevelt cut down on red tape by beginning a new presidential practice of granting a similar “national monument” designation to some of the West’s greatest treasures.
More than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon area were turned into a national monument.
“Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is,” he declared. “You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”
Congress upgraded the Grand Canyon to national-park status in 1919 and doubled the protected area in 1975.
Now, more than five million people come to visit the Grand Canyon and see a vista that has barely changed over the course of the past 500 years.