Ken Burns’ latest film “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” premieres on PBS Sept. 27, and I'm looking forward to watching the series. (Check the schedule on WGVU.)
Burns’ approach to documentary filmmaking completely revitalized the art form. It wasn’t just the techniques of camera work, narration and writing, but the drama and emotional weight given to the subject matter, the placement of people and events into history’s long view. Offering more than the facts of events, his documentaries give us the how and why. The result is beautiful and riveting. The films have generated a host of companion books and CDs.
Ken Burns came to the fore with “The Civil War,” a monumental achievement, and continued with other works (among them “Lewis & Clark: The Corps of Discovery,” “Baseball,” “Jazz,” “Mark Twain,” “Thomas Jefferson”), all of which have explored facets of the American experience. It’s fitting, then, that Burns and long-time collaborator Dayton Duncan tackle the subject of our magnificent national parks.
And the parks themselves is the other reason I’m excited to see the series. The summer before my senior year in college, I worked as an interpretive naturalist at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There, in the Badlands of western North Dakota, I gave tours of TR’s Maltese Cross Cabin, roamed the Park’s 30-some mile loop on a moped (being fully warned that a moped cannot outrun a bison), and worked the desk at two visitor centers. I occasionally had to explain to visitors that this was not the park to “see the faces” for Mount Rushmore National Memorial was in another state, South Dakota.
The experience was one of those defining moments that helped me figure out the next direction of my life. It was a privilege to work with career, seasonal and volunteer park staff, most of whom forfeited job security and domestic stability in return for transitory service at one seasonal post or another, year after year. (One National Park Service employee set her mystery novels in national parks. The Anna Pigeon series of novels by Nevada Barr take place in such locations as Isle Royale and Mesa Verde.)
I hope you’ll watch the series, check out KPL’s many resources about national parks, and plan your next visit to a national treasure.
The National Parks: America's Best Idea