Over the last couple of weeks I had the enjoyment of catching Ken Burns’ latest production on the local PBS affiliate of National Parks. I should have posted before now, because it was available online as well up until last Friday, though there are a few supplemental videos still available at video.pbs.com and the entire series can be purchased from I-Tunes. Regardless, I am sure it will be aired again on several PBS stations here shortly and when it does in your area it is amazing and well worth the effort to watch it.
If you have never been exposed to Ken Burns you are truly missing out. He has several major productions to his credit that have almost always aired on the PBS network. Most all of those productions, similar to this one, focus on a historical narrative of a major aspect of America, using both film and historical photographs, speeches, and other sources to tell the story. This particular production focused in on the history and coming to be of the National Park system we have in here in the United States. The idea of our National Parks some of have called the our greatest idea and even a linchpin to a democracy.
It is broke into five parts, in chronological order. Without sharing too much information, suffice it to say that the parks started as a hap-hazard idea and slowly over almost a hundred years gained momentum to become what we generally know them as today. A few notes along the way, almost all of the original parks were in the west and to large extent several of the first ones were land, that while beautiful, was just not suitable for much else a the time. Later, efforts to keep them pristine were joined, largely in an effort to keep them from becoming the touristy trap that the area around Niagara Falls had become. Somewhere along the way various folks recognized that in the preservation efforts toward both wildlife and the natural features had to be made. And of course the promotion of the parks occurred when dollar value of other projects won out over such efforts in one major showdown. It is also interesting to note, that those military parks and other non-nature based parks were relative late comings to the system.
To me of course, combined with the history of how the parks came to be was the huge impact that several different people had on the parks systems in several different kinds of roles. I learned of a new person that I now respect a lot, cut from the same clothe perhaps as Thoreau, and certainly in kind to Kephart and Masa, was John Muir. Muir has thoughts very similar to my own on a lot of such issues, such as when seeing a church in the Yosemite Valley, he wondered about why build a church in one of God’s own grand cathedrals? Beyond such thoughts as those that I share with him, he probably had more to do with the creation and sustainability of the early parks than anyone. I am looking forward to finding a collection of some of writing to read further of the man.
I mentioned Horace Kephart and George Masa, with whom I am familiar, both of which were influential the creation of the Great Smokey Mountains Park. The Smokies are currently celebrating the 75th anniversary of becoming a park, and ironically, there are several mentions of Kephart and Masa. I am awe-struck to think of things like the efforts of not only Masa, but several other non-native Japanese who were actively involved in campaigns for what has come to be National Parks. Beyond that though, a certain twinge of sadness to come into my thought process with those parks in the east, where mountain families had land bought from them, forcibly at times, and they were forced to leave. In many cases of course, this was the second “Trail of Tears” as people were removed from their homes over the same patches of almost wilderness. And of course that tugs at other sides of me, as I know if I were the same situation I would probably end up dead or arrested out of it.
So a new goal for the not far off future. I have only visited a few of the National Parks and I think I am going to, much as some of old did, start collecting “stickers” from the various ones and make an effort to get out to several of the more inspiring ones in the near future. I keep thinking of this trip to Europe I would like to make, but there is so much here in the near home that I would like to see as well. And of course I have my favorites too, I am thinking much even now of a visit soon to the Smokies and perhaps some others a bit further afield, but yet, not so far.