Theodore Roosevelt, the noted conservation president, had an impact on the national park system extending well beyond his term in office. As chief executive from 1901 to 1909, he signed legislation establishing five national parks: Crater Lake, Oregon; Wind Cave, South Dakota; Sullys Hill, North Dakota (later redesignated a game preserve); Mesa Verde, Colorado; and Platt, Oklahoma (now part of Chickasaw National Recreation Area). Another Roosevelt enactment had a broader effect, however: the Antiquities Act of June 8, 1906. While not creating a single park itself, the Antiquities Act enabled Roosevelt and his successors to proclaim "historic landmarks, historic or prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest" in federal ownership as national monuments.
Roosevelt did not hesitate to take advantage of this new executive authority. By the end of 1906 he had proclaimed four national monuments: Devils Tower, Wyoming, on September 24 and El Morro, New Mexico, Montezuma Castle, Arizona, and Petrified Forest, Arizona, together on December 8. He was also prepared to interpret the authority expansively, protecting a large portion of the Grand Canyon as a national monument in 1908. By the end of his term he had reserved six predominantly cultural areas and twelve predominantly natural areas in this manner. Half the total were initially administered by the Agriculture Department and were later transferred to Interior Department jurisdiction.
Later presidents also used the Antiquities Act to proclaim national monuments105 in all. Forty-nine of them retain this designation today; others have been retitled national parks or otherwise reclassified by Congress. The Antiquities Act is the original authority for about a quarter of the 378 areas composing the national park system in 1999.
Recalling this legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, it seems appropriate that he is now commemorated by five park system areasas many as honor Abraham Lincoln and more than for any other president. Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site in New York City, Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in Oyster Bay, New York, Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site in Buffalo, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, and Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington, DC, trace his career and memorialize his contributions to America. The National Park Service, administrator of these parklands and the many others Roosevelt made possible, has particular cause to honor his memory.