Sunday, August 16, 2009

Go West, Young Man ... er, I mean, Mr. President

We're getting news these past few days about President Obama's trip to the inter-mountain West, which mixes business with pleasure. His first stop for a town-hall-style meeting about health care reform was in Belgrade, Montana. Belgrade, just down the road from Bozeman and Montana State University, had a 2000 population of 5,728, which is probably quite a bit larger now since its micropolitan Gallatin County home is the fastest growing county in the state (32% between 2000 and 2008). Obama did another such meeting yesterday in Grand Junction, Colorado, another fast growing city, this one a regional center in western Colorado.

Just as interesting to me is the Obamas' decision to make surgical strike visits to two National Parks, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon. Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the the New York Times reports that the Obama Family spent Friday night "at a wooded lodge here in the mountains of Montana, then slipped off Saturday morning for a helicopter ride into Yellowstone National Park, where they landed in a clearing not far from the famous geyser, Old Faithful." The story continues:
The White House had billed the trip as a private family visit, but a small pool of reporters and photographers was allowed to accompany the Obama party — including aides, park rangers, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Mr. Obama’s sister and brother-in-law, Maya Soetoro-Ng and Konrad Ng — to watch the geyser erupt.
Stolberg reports that Obama tried fly fishing and Michelle and the girls took a white water rafting excursion while in Montana. The family visited the Grand Canyon today, where they apparently spent just over four hours, less than the seven previously planned. I guess if you're not going to do some hiking, there's not all that much to do. I think I read somewhere that the average visit to the Grand Canyon is just a couple of hours. Could the Obamas be average in any way? Bite my tongue. Here's the link to the AP story, and here's the NYT report.

Having spent several days in and around both of these national parks, I can only feel sorry for the Obamas that they are seeing these natural wonders in such tiny tidbits. It's no doubt glamorous to be the first family and to have the option to travel this way--to zip in and out of various wonders of the natural world--but it strikes me as very unsatisfying to helicopter into Yellowstone only to see Old Faithful and then rush off to a town-hall meeting on health care reform. Like our other great national parks, these places are meant to savored.

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