“[More recent] Presidents have used the law that we used from 1907, the Antiquities Act, to encompass very wide areas of ocean property — many archipelagos and things which enclosed many more acres than I encompassed — but mine was on land.” — President Jimmy Carter
157 million acres of preserved land is certainly not something to scoff at, and Jimmy Carter accomplished that and more with a single stroke of a pen. He also vetoed more than a dozen dam projects across the country as President, and even before then, as Governor, had vetoed a controversial dam project in Georgia. But when people think of “environmental Presidents,” they recall Roosevelt (yes, both of them), Clinton, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama — but rarely is Jimmy Carter’s name in the mix. It should be.
During Carter’s tenure in the White House, his administration designated more than 40 new Wild and Scenic Rivers, protecting over 5,300 miles of what can be thought of as our National Parks for rivers. And like our actual, terrestrial National Parks, so many miles of rivers (of the nearly 3-million miles of river across the nation) are left without adequate protection. On his last day in office alone, President Carter protected over 1,300 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers across the country, nearly 10% of our current Wild and Scenic inventory. He took action to affirm his main conservation motivation as “…trying to preserve as much as [he] could of the beauty of God’s world.”
Understanding this about President Carter, and later learning that his “whitewater mentor” who sparked his discovery of the power and joy of a wild river was none other than American Rivers co-founder Claude Terry, we had to tell this story. And tell this story we did, in the form of our new film, The Wild President. With support of NRS and Yeti Coolers, we sat down with Claude Terry, President Carter, and Doug Woodward (from The Important Places) and explored each of their thoughts about the preservation of wild rivers, the excitement of southeastern whitewater, and the thrill of a particular day in 1974 when President Carter and Claude Terry ran the first descent in an open-water canoe of the Chattooga’s most famous rapid, Bull Sluice. We also spent a few days on the Wild and Scenic Chattooga, exploring some of the incredible shoals, slips, and rapids that make this southeastern river such a treasure.
As I spoke with President Carter in his Presidential Conference room at the Carter Center in Atlanta, I came to realize that this humble and caring man, while receiving enormous credit for his post-Presidential efforts around human rights and world peace, was also one of our more unsung environmental heroes. Whether by preserving large tracts of land for all of us, and all creatures to enjoy, protecting our best rivers, or stopping boondoggle dam projects, President Carter deserves great appreciation from each of us who enjoy clean water and wild, free-flowing rivers.
With the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act approaching in 2018, American Rivers and our partners are aiming to protect 5,000 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers nationwide. We’re also collecting and sharing 5,000 personal river stories, to demonstrate broad support for river protection to decision-makers. “The Wild President” is one of these stories. I hope the film inspires us all to join with President Carter, and all Americans, to preserve even more of the beauty that he realized more than four decades ago.
Story by Sinjin Eberle