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He urged Congress to release funds to add 100 new natural and historic sites to the federal inventory of protected treasures.
"We should begin by bringing the last remaining sections of the Appalachian Trail under public control, thereby making every inch a part of our children's birthright," he said.
"We must commit to healing the wear and tear in our magnificent, but often quite overextended national parks. Many parks, refuges and monuments are in dire need of repair, ironically, because the American people love them so much," Clinton said.
"Countless Americans set off for their vacations every year knowing they can have the best and most economical vacation in the world at a national park.
"Often it may be the only one they can afford and still might be the best one money can buy. We have to continue to honor our pact with the American people," Clinton said.
Clinton spoke in front of an estimated 1,500 people on the point that juts out between the two rivers at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
Schoolchildren, Boy Scouts, Brownies, local political leaders and tourists waited for nearly two hours on a warm, spring day for the president and Vice President Al Gore to arrive.
The two spent nearly an hour doing volunteer work on the Appalachian Trail.
They joined volunteers from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club at Jefferson Rock overlooking the Shenandoah River.
They put on work gloves and helped members of the Vienna, Va.-based club build a stone wall to prevent erosion.
Eyeing the 160-pound rock they had to lift and place, Gore joked nervously, "There is some considerable uncertainty associated with this next move." Hefting his end, Clinton stumbled and his right ankle twisted but did not give way.
Afterward, Clinton was asked if he was tired. "No. I'd like to stay out here the rest of the day. It's great work," he replied.
The president and vice president also knelt to plant multicolored phlox.
They stopped for a photo opportunity with the steeple of St. Peter's Catholic Church behind them.
About noon, Sandra Marra, president of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, a volunteer group that maintains the trail in the region, introduced Clinton and Gore as the two newest volunteers for the Appalachian Trail.
"Let me thank Sandi Marra and all the other volunteers who worked with the vice president and me today to make sure we didn't mess up anything so badly," Clinton said during his speech. "I walked away saying, 'Now I wonder if they're going to have to go along behind us and undo all the stuff we just did and then do it right?"'
The crowd laughed. "I don't think so," the president said. "I think we crossed the threshold of minimum competence as volunteers today."
Thirty-one trail clubs with nearly 4,000 volunteers maintain the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia.
The confederation's headquarters - the Appalachian Trail Conference - is in Harpers Ferry.
Clinton thanked the volunteers who maintain the Appalachian Trail and the National Park system.
"We need you, we honor you and we're very grateful," he said.
Those who work on the Appalachian Trail and at Harpers Ferry said they were pleased with the president's recognition of their efforts.
"The volunteers are the soul of the Appalachian Trail," said Laurie Potteiger, information specialist with the Appalachian Trail Conference.
Appalachian Trail volunteer Jan Skadberg, 45, of Charles Town, W.Va., said she is not a Clinton supporter but liked his speech.
"I am grateful he came and acknowledged volunteerism because we need more volunteers. Volunteers have made this country great," Skadberg said.
"Hundreds of thousands of hours are donated every year and he said it was over $100 million of free labor," said Skadberg, a member of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and a nurse at Bethesda Naval Hospital.
"People have a passion for the outdoors and a love affair with nature, places to recharge their batteries," Skadberg said.