By Karen Wilkinson
Triplicate staff writer
A visit to California's northernmost coastal counties from a big-name politicians is a rarity.
That shouldn't be a surprise. Del Norte and Humboldt counties' voting population barely dents statewide and national election results and we're more than 300 miles from a major metro area.
But three presidents have visited our counties well, sort of.
Nearly 40 years ago, a past, then-current and a future U.S. president walked upon redwood-rich grounds in Orick, which sits just south of Del Norte and is Humboldt's northernmost town. They were Lyndon Johnson, who a few months prior held the title, Richard Nixon who was president at the time, and California Gov. Ronald Reagan, who would be elected president a little more than a decade later.
In 1968, Johnson signed into law the act that established Redwood National Park, which preserved 58,000 acres in the care of the National Park Service. The following summer in August 1969, newly elected President Nixon, along with Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson and Reagan, dedicated the Lady Bird Johnson Grove nature trail in Johnson's wife's name.
The dedication ceremony was combined with a birthday party for Lyndon Johnson. About halfway along the trail through the grove, a plaque commemorates that ceremony.
In remarks recorded by The American Presidency Project, Nixon said Lady Bird Johnson "has done more in the field of beautification than any First Lady in history."
Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson has been referred to as "Mrs. Beautification" and "Mrs. Conservation" and praised for her work to "stir the soul of America" in preserving natural resources and improving the environment.
The Lady Bird Johnson Grove ridgetop grove features a gorgeous stand of old-growth redwoods and an easy one-mile loop trail.
During the ceremony, Nixon said, "To stand here in this grove of redwoods, to realize what a few moments of solitude in this magnificent place can mean, what it can mean to a man who is president, what it can mean to any man or any woman who needs time to get away from whatever may be the burdens of all our tasks, and then that renewal that comes from it to stand here makes us realize the great service that a President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, rendered when he put so much emphasis on conservation; that these Congressmen and Senators and Governors have rendered by their support for conservation and that our very honored guest, Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, has rendered in her work for beautification, and particularly her work with regard to this very grove in which we stand.
"So today I sign this proclamation as President of the United States, but I sign it for all the people of California, for all the people of the United States, in admiration and respect for a great First Lady Lady Bird Johnson."
Lady Bird Johnson remarked, "You have given me a day to treasure always, and I am grateful. I am grateful, too, to another president who in his time, along, with many, many people, did what he could to insure that these trees would be here for all tomorrows.
"Conservation is indeed a bipartisan business because all of us have the same stake in this magnificent continent. All of us have the same love for it and the same feeling that it is going to belong to our children and grandchildren and their grandchildren I am coming to understand a lot better these days the same opportunity to work in our time to see that it stays as glorious."
Former President Johnson also spoke at the ceremony. "I would hope that future generations might look down the history of our past and look at the great conservation leaders and that some of my children and my grandchildren if I am fortunate, even myself, could read not only what both President Nixon and I read about the works of Theodore Roosevelt and his leadership in the field of conservation and Franklin D. Roosevelt and what he had done to conserve this nation," he said, "but that we soon might have a book from the Richard M. Nixon Library that would join with the great names of Roosevelt, the great name of Richard Nixon; because if I am a prophet one that can see the beauties that abound in this state where he grew up and where he enjoyed coming to the forests and building a fire and talking about the glories of this state it could be well extended to the rest of the nation and the other states."