National Parks: America's Best Idea

Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan of Florentine Films have done it again. Already credited with some of the best documentaries of our time: The Civil War, Jazz, The West, Baseball, and most recently, The War, the duo have become the video biographers of the American nation. Their latest film, National Parks: America's Best Idea, is a 12-hour, six-part series premiering this Sunday, September 27 on PBS at 8:00 p.m. (EST).


Video Biographers of the American Nation, Co-Producers Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan.

Can you imagine PBS with a swinging chance at audience numbers that rival American Idol? Well, Simon, this is not just a singing contest, this is Great Television.

Park yourself, your kids, yellow Lab, or parakeet in front of the TV Sunday night and experience a spell-binding exploration of the characters and conservationists, presidents and poets, rednecks and ruffians, African Americans, and women who created the American National Park System -- the earliest movement in history to preserve public parkland.

As Ken Burns tells us, the series is no "travelogue," but contains some of the finest cinematography of his career, capturing images from the dramatic coastline of Maine's Acadia to the singular majesty of Wyoming's Grand Teton to the spectacular display of the Everglades' "River of Grass" to Yosemite's El Capitan and the tallest waterfall in North America to the breathtakingly vast landscape of Alaska's Denali. The series is a brilliant guided video tour of the most beautiful nation on Earth. On Sunday night, let your kids explore their Great American Backyard.

National Parks: America's Best Idea is also a story of how the land and American landscape became inextricably tied to the soul and character of the American people. It is an intricate story of people with incredible vision and foresight, undaunted, with staggering energy, who felt compelled to preserve for all Americans a small part of Earth making it theirs, ours, and "Forever Wild."


What's the "Best Idea" part? As the producers of this film will tell you, our parks system represents the first time in history that land, the best, most beautiful land, was set aside not for the use of the nobility or the king but for the ordinary citizens of a nation. This was the moment when citizen ownership of American land became an American birthright, a stake hitherto only the landed gentry could claim. Says co-producer Dayton Duncan, "This was the Declaration of Independence applied to the landscape ... and it was just as radical".


Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park.

What if I told you that you had inherited a vast Colorado landscape in the Rocky Mountains, with snow topped peaks, waterfalls and streams, magnificent meadowlands and abundant wildlife? Welcome home. And a gift of ancient Sequoia trees in California -- majestic, stone quiet, awe-inspiring: the largest living things on the planet? Hello Mother Nature. What about an active volcano in Hawaii where the nights burn red with streams of hot lava rolling lazily to the sea? Pull up a chair. What's that? -- Throw in the Statue of Liberty? Now you get it: the Lady is yours. Ok, an enormous geyser that shoots pressure-cooked water 15 stories into the air that is so faithful you can set your Timex? The time is now. Welcome to your American inheritance: 84 million acres comprising 58 national parks, with 333 historic monuments, seashores, and battlefields. Remember the American Classic, "This Land is Your Land" written by Woody Guthrie in 1940? Song of the Century.


"Ken and I hope that our film will convince every American from every walk of life that the national parks represent our nation at its best -- a truly democratic invention that reserves our most majestic and sacred places for ... the enjoyment of everyone. We believe that the future of the national parks relies on more Americans reconnecting with our nation's natural landscape and its history, preserved in the park system -- and passing on that appreciation to the next generation," says Dayton Duncan


President Theodore Roosevelt (left) and John Muir at Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, 1903.

Reconnect this Sunday at 8 p.m. on PBS.