Thursday, October 1, 2009
Why National Parks are the Best Idea
Ken Burns' 12 hour, six part film The National Parks: America's Best Idea, televised on PBS this week, is enthralling television. It chronicles the birth of the national park idea in the mid 1800's and follows its evolution for 150 years. Also the film includes archival photographs, first person accounts, and over 40 interviews.
It's apparent that for Burns this series became an all-consuming passion, particularly coming after his gruelling emotional odyssey of his sweeping Second World War documentary, The War. Burns found a restorative in going back to nature. He spent six years visiting many of the pivotal parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and the Everglades and capturing some wonderful footage.
In the first installment entitled the 'Scripture of Nature':
"People rich and poor, famous and unknown, soldiers and scientists, natives and newcomers, idealists, artists and entrepreneurs, people willing to devote themselves to saving some precious portion of the land they loved, and in doing so, reminded their fellow citizens of the full meaning of democracy."
Jarring for me was to see images of the sweep of 'civilization' to tame the land and harvest its precious resources including virgin growth sequoia. Profit was (is?) more sacred than nature for many.
Also the pivotal role of John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is very well documented.
The DVD, book, and other assorted materials such as lesson plans can be purchased here.
The national parks website provides an introduction to America's 58 parks. The 'find a park' feature is very convenient by clicking on states on the map. Also you may go to national parks.org.
Image: Soldiers guarding Yosemite National Park, 1899