Our National Parks

A new film by Ken Burns, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea“, will be presented by PBS in six episodes starting Sunday, September 27, at 8 pm Eastern Time. Filmed over a course of more than six years, this series will show some of the most beautiful places in our country, at the best time of year, in the best light, along with the history of our national parks, people who made a difference, and park profiles.

“The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” is directed by Ken Burns and written and co-produced by Dayton Duncan.

See a behind the scenes tour of this new Ken Burns series, “The National Parks”, in this PBS Preview.

Ken Burns points out that the concept of a national park is an American idea and ideal, and that Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872, is arguably the world’s first truly national park.  Our national parks are living symbols of democracy, and are special places of discovery and inspiration, building human happiness, and should be preserved for all people to enjoy (not just for royalty or the rich).

Talking about national parks and monuments, President Theodore Roosevelt is quoted in the film as saying, “It is the preservation of the scenery, of the forests and the wilderness game for the people as a whole.  Instead of leaving the enjoyment thereof to be confined to the very rich, it is noteworthy in its essential democracy, one of the best bits of national achievement, which our people have to their credit.  And our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children, and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.”

On June 8, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Antiquities Act of 1906, giving the President of the United States authority to restrict use of particular land owned by the federal government by executive order, bypassing Congressional oversight, and avoiding partisan gridlock.  The Antiquities Act resulted from concerns arising about protecting mostly prehistoric Native American ruins and artifacts.  The intent is to allow the President to set aside and protect certain valuable public natural areas as park and conservation lands, which are given the title of “National Monuments“.

The first declared United States National Monument was Devils Tower, established on September 24, 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt.  Devils Tower is a monolithic igneous intrusion or volcanic rock in the Black Hills of northeastern Wyoming.  Native American tribes including the Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Lakota, and Shoshone had cultural and geographical ties to the monolith long before European and early American immigrants reached Wyoming.  More than 48% of land in Wyoming is now owned by the United States Government (as noted in Wikipedia’s article, “Wyoming“).

On January 11, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt (struggling against mining interests) proclaimed more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon as a National Monument (it was declared a National Park on February 26, 1919).  This is an example of an early success of the environmental conservation movement, which may have helped to thwart proposals to dam the Colorado River within its boundaries.

On October 14, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson created Cabrillo National Monument, which is located on the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego, California, and commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542.

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At the highest point in the park stands the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which became operational in 1855.

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People come from all over the world to enjoy the views of the region’s mountains, San Diego harbor, Pacific Ocean, Mexico and the Coronado Islands.  Pacific gray whales can be seen migrating from late December to early February.  Cabrillo National Monument contains one of the finest (and protected) rocky intertidal areas (tide pools) on the southern California coast and is one of the last refuges of coastal sage scrub habitat.

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Ken Burns film, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”, also highlights other heroes who have made a difference in preserving our natural resources and wilderness areas, such as Stephen Mather (first director of the National Park Service, which was established by the National Park Service Organic Act signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916),  John Muir (naturalist, author, early advocate of the preservation of the wilderness, and founder and first president of the Sierra Club), President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Civilian Conservation Corps, Marjory Stoneman Douglas (friend of the Everglades), William Gladstone Steel (“father of Crater Lake”), and George Melendez Wright (National Park Service naturalist).

George Melendez Wright was noted as saying, “Our national heritage is richer than just scenic features… perhaps our greatest national heritage is nature itself, with all of its complexity and its abundance of life”.  See this wonderful video clip on George Melendez Wright.

The most recent national monument was designated by President George W. Bush on January 6, 2009: The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.  The Marianas trench reefs and waters (95,216 square miles) are among the most biologically diverse in the Western Pacific and include the greatest diversity of seamount and hydrothermal vent life yet discovered.  The Mariana trench is the deepest point on Earth and five times longer than the Grand Canyon.

Our national parks and monuments are our national treasures that bring us happiness and a sense of well-being…  a sense of comfort, like going home… and like a home, they need to be protected, restored (including restoration of native species), maintained and kept functioning for all to enjoy for all time.

See one more video selection from this new, beautiful mini-series, along with a moving interview of documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, shown in this clip from The Rachel Maddow Show of September 24, 2009.

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