Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The National Park Service is Formed

In tonight's episode of The National Parks: America's Best Idea, Grand Canyon and Acadia are the featured parks. Many people had wanted the Grand Canyon to be a National Park for a long time, and it was finally designated as such in 1919, the same year as Acadia.

Acadia brings me to my gripe about this series. In the greater scheme of things it is only an annoyance, but nevertheless I don't like it. Burns repeatedly fails to give us fine historical detail such as the fact that Acadia's original name was Sieur de Monts National Monument. The show implies that it was Acadia National Monument. Likewise, he fails to mention that it was made a National Park under the name of Lafayette National Park, which was later changed to Acadia NP, though he is clear that there was some name other than Acadia at the time. I am also still irritated that he completely ignored the second National Park, Mackinac NP. To his credit, he did point out that Zion NP's original name was Mukuntuweap National Monument.

Putting my gripes aside, this was my favorite episode so far, as it focused on the birth of the National Park Service, my favorite government agency, and its first director, Stephen Mather. His assistant, Horace Albright, who succeeded him as director, also features prominently. I might point out here that Albright's book, The Birth of the National Park Service, is a great read. I had forgotten what an impediment Gifford Pinchot, the head of the Forest Service, was. Burns makes sure to point this out in tonight's and last night's episodes. It is always fun to have a bad guy around, especially when we know things turned out fine in the end.

We are halfway done with the series now, and I am convinced that it is the television event of the century, just as I had assumed it would be. Ken Burns rules!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Excitement Builds

Tonight's episode of The National Parks: America's Best Idea centered on our greatest conservation president, Theodore Roosevelt. The highlight was when Congress passed the Antiquities Act and Roosevelt seized upon it to declare several National Monuments. This act was largely the work of Iowa Congressman John Lacey, of whom I was previously not aware. He was quite important in the early protection of the National Parks, and I have now added him to my list of National Park heroes. The sad part of the episode was John Muir's loss in the fight to prevent Hetch-Hetchy Valley from being flooded as a reservoir. I personally do not think this is such a tragedy, but Muir felt otherwise.

Tomorrow's episode should be even more exciting, as we get to the founding of the National Park Service and presumably quite a bit on Stephen Mather and Horace Albright.

Ken Burns Does Not Disappoint

Last night, PBS showed the first episode of The National Parks: America's Best Idea. It was just as good as I had hoped for. It is not the show to watch if you just want to see pretty pictures of national parks. It is for someone who wants to know the history of the parks. I have a whole bookshelf of national park books, and I am very interested in the history. John Muir was prominently featured in this episode, as he will be in tonight's episode along with Theodore Roosevelt, our greatest conservation president. Yellowstone and Yosemite were the featured parks, and the episode ends with the total number of parks standing at four: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, and General Grant (now part of Kings Canyon NP). I was disappointed that Burns did not mention Hot Springs Reservation (now Hot Springs NP), which pre-dated Yosemite by 30 years, or Mackinac National Park (now Mackinac Island State Park), which was the second national park after Yellowstone, as part of the early history. I suppose that they did not quite fit the narrative. In any project, you have to decide what to leave in and what to leave out. If you missed the first episode, you can catch it on the PBS web site.