President Barack Obama will make his first visit to Yosemite National Park as part of a two-state Western jaunt next week, officials announced Thursday.
Obama’s trip is part of a presidential run-up to the National Park Service’s centennial celebration. It will also be a bit of a family getaway, albeit one with abundant Secret Service and media coverage.
“The First Family is taking a summer trip to take in the great American outdoors!” the White House enthusiastically stated in a Facebook announcement.
Many details of the trip remain under wraps, beyond the basics that Obama will tour both Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico and Yosemite from June 17 until June 19.
A White House official cast the Carlsbad Caverns and Yosemite trips as part of the Obama administration’s broader natural resource protection efforts, which have included close attention to the effects of climate change.
“The administration will continue to protect iconic landscapes, connect younger and more diverse populations to the outdoors, and work toward a more inclusive system of parks and protected public lands that reflect the diversity of our nation,” the White House official said.
The National Park Service turns 100 on Aug. 25, giving the president’s park visits extra flavor.
Obama will be arriving, moreover, as Yosemite continues its transition from one concession company to another. On March 1, a subsidiary of the Philadelphia-based Aramark took over after beating out the former concessionaire, a subsidiary of the Buffalo-based Delaware North.
Park service officials have described the transition as a smooth one, though a legal battle still rages at the U.S. Court of Federal Claims over the Delaware North company’s claims that it’s owed millions of dollars for trademarked names.
Citing the trademark dispute, the park service has in the meantime changed the names of certain Yosemite spots. Instead of seeing the famed Ahwahnee hotel, for instance, Obama and his family members will get to check out the renamed Majestic Yosemite Hotel.
Attracting upwards of 4 million visitors annually, Yosemite has periodically drawn political celebrities of various stripes. In 1983, Queen Elizabeth II visited the park in an 18-car processional. The last president to visit was John F. Kennedy in 1962.
Yosemite officials referred questions about the visit to the White House.
Visits to the Valley
Currying votes and seeing national parks have been the main reasons for sitting presidents to visit the central San Joaquin Valley:
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09): Roosevelt arrived via train in Raymond in May 1903, where he made an off-the-cuff speech to an unexpected crowd before leaving with naturalist John Muir and 30 troopers from the Ninth U.S. Cavalry (the legendary Buffalo soldiers) up Grub Gulch Road to spend four days in Yosemite National Park.
William H. Taft (1909-13): Taft visited Yosemite in October 1909 with Muir as his guide before visiting Fresno, where he gave a speech at Courthouse Park and visited Kearney Park.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945): Roosevelt visited Yosemite in July 1938. His train passed through Fresno in the early morning, but the president was asleep.
Harry S. Truman (1945-1953): Truman was in Fresno in September 1948 with his re-election campaign train. The train also made stops in Merced, Tulare and Bakersfield.
John F. Kennedy (1961-63): Kennedy visited in August 1962 to dedicate the San Luis Dam Project. He flew into Castle Air Force Base, stayed at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, visited the dam site near Los Banos and departed from the then-Fresno Air Terminal.
Gerald R. Ford (1974-77): Ford visited Fresno in November 1974 to help Rep. Bob Mathias’ re-election campaign and again in March 1976 as part of his own re-election campaign.
Jimmy Carter (1977-1981): Carter visited Fresno in May 1977 to view problems caused by the drought. He also held a town hall meeting in Merced in July 1980.
George H.W. Bush (1989-1993): Bush went to a ranch just west of Fresno during a campaign stop in May 1992. He also visited Sequoia National Forest in July 1992 to discuss his environmental policies and to sign a proclamation to protect giant sequoia groves from logging.
Bill Clinton (1993-2001): Clinton visited Lincoln Middle School in Selma in September 1995. Before talking to students, he met with rural mayors. Afterward he toured Simonian Farms and bought nectarines and grapes. In September 1996, he stayed overnight in Fresno and attended a rally at Morris E. Dailey Elementary School. Clinton visited again in April 2000, landing at Bakersfield’s Meadows Field airport before touring the Trail of 100 Giants in Sequoia National Forest, where he signed a proclamation designating 328,000 acres around 34 groves of ancient sequoias as a national monument.
George W. Bush (2001-09): In May 2001, Bush landed in Fresno en route to Sequoia National Park to discuss his environmental and energy policies. In October 2003, he spoke at a luncheon at the Fresno Convention Center and visited Ruiz Foods in Dinuba.
Barack Obama (2009-16): On Feb. 15, 2014, Obama made a whirlwind tour of the drought-stricken region. In a stay that lasted barely three hours, he visited fallowed west-side land owned by farmer Joe Del Bosque and hosted a round-table discussion with farmers, industry representatives, environmentalists and politicians inside a San Luis Water District maintenance building. He flew in and out of Fresno on Air Force One. Obama will be back the weekend of June 17-19 for a visit to Yosemite.
– Fresno Bee archives