First lady Melania Trump will arrive in Jackson on Thursday, her first official trip to Jackson Hole since her husband, President Donald Trump, took office in 2017.
White House officials announced Tuesday that Melania Trump would arrive in Teton County to “visit some of America’s treasured national parks,” and to promote her “Be Best” initiative by inviting children to use and enjoy those parks.
“The first lady’s visit to Wyoming is intended to encourage children to spend more time outdoors,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement, “and help build an important lifelong relationship between our youth and America’s extraordinary national parks and lands.”
She’ll be asking them to take advantage of the “Every Kid Outdoors” program, through which the National Park Service offers free park access to fourth graders.
Charlotte Reynolds, information coordinator for Teton School District No. 1, confirmed that a group of elementary school students will be attending a field trip to Grand Teton National Park this week as part of the “Every Kid Outdoors” program.
In a video on the White House website, Melania Trump explains the central tenets of “Be Best,” one pillar of which is “well-being.”
“I’m here with one goal,” she said, “which is helping children reach their fullest potential so they can grow up to be happy, healthy, and to contribute positively to society.”
But as she prepares to tout the importance of America’s national parks in that process, some have contrasted the first lady’s advocacy with the president’s many policies that threaten those same parks.
Over the past several years, Donald Trump’s administration has rolled back dozens of environmental regulations, proposed budgets to slash National Park Service funding, and appointed energy lobbyists to the highest environmental and land management posts.
John Garder, senior director of budget and appropriations with the National Parks Conservation Association, lauded the White House’s efforts to inspire young people to engage with their public lands. But he said it should back up those efforts with the financial assistance needed to tend them properly.
As it stands, Garder said, Grand Teton National Park faces about $180 million in overdue maintenance costs, and Yellowstone about $560 million. He urged the president to promote the Restore Our Parks Act, a bill that would help offset those costs.
“If the administration wants to support kids enjoying their parks,” Garder said, “they have to make sure they are well kept and repaired.
“Hopefully the first lady will have a wonderful visit and she’ll see she’s not alone,” he went on, noting the more than 330 million annual park visitors. “Our parks are starting to feel the pain from having to deal with insufficient budgets.”
He added that the association is “alarmed” by Donald Trump’s “systematic effort to undermine bedrock environmental protections.” According to The New York Times, the administration has overturned 53 regulations about everything from animals to drilling to pollution, and is in the process of eliminating another 32.
“To say we’re deeply concerned is an understatement,” Garder said. “The administration has an opportunity to turn around their efforts to undo protections for wildlife and public lands and clean air and clean water.”
Melania Trump’s arrival follows about a month after Donald Trump’s campaign cadre netted over $1 million during a luncheon at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in August. The president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, her husband, Jared Kushner, and other administration officials trumpeted their optimism for the president’s reelection chances to an audience of about 100.
Politicians have long courted wealthy Jackson Hole donors, and a handful made the guest list for the fundraiser. Among them were resort owners Jay and Karen Kemmerer, who have contributed $200,000 to the Trump Victory Committee, a joint fundraising venture with the Republican National Committee.
Billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade Joe Ricketts was also listed on the invitation, along with his wife, Marlene. Together they have donated nearly $400,000 to Trump this year.
The Trumps aren’t the only presidential hopefuls to make the rounds of the valley this year. Democratic candidates Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker both held fundraisers in August as well.
Melania Trump’s trip also comes as her husband enters perhaps the most turbulent chapter of his presidency. House Democrats are pursuing a formal impeachment inquiry into his request that the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Details on the first lady’s itinerary are scant, with White House officials citing security concerns. But it appears she does not plan to hold any public events during her stay in Jackson Hole.