Friday, October 2, 2009

The Last Episode

Tonight, The National Parks: America's Best Idea came to an end. It went out in blaze of glory as wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995. This was the culmination of work by George Wright and his protege Adolph Murrie, Park Service biologists who realized that wildlife in its wild state was an integral part of the parks and that all animals, both cute and ferocious, belonged there.

Biscayne NP was the featured park in this episode, along with the Alaska parks. Between President Carter wielding the Antiquities Act and Congress declaring National Parks, 1978-80 saw a huge increase in National Park acreage. It was a thrill to see the map of Alaska go from containing just Mount McKinley National Park to containing eight National Parks and other huge areas of protected land.

The person who figured prominently in this episode is Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. His name is well known to conservationists and parks buffs. Under his watch, many parks were added to the system and George Hartzog was appointed as Park Service Director. The people highlight of the episode was when the various talking heads from the series told their own National Park stories.

Burning out on Burns

Last night's episode of The National Parks: America's Best Idea was the least enjoyable so far. It was probably mostly because I was tired, but after 8 or 9 hours of the show, I think I am starting to get tired of watching it. Perhaps they should have spaced the episodes out a bit, say two or three episodes a week over a few weeks. Part of it was also Ken Burns' fault. In this episode he went off on a fairly long tangent, the only one in the series. My attention wavered and never really came back for the rest of the episode. This also illustrates Ken Burns' primary flaw: his style is very slow and interest in his shows requires deep interest in the material itself. I don't think anyone could watch a Ken Burns documentary about a subject in which they weren't especially interested.

Of course, there were several things in the episode which were interesting. The CCC, Roosevelt's best idea, was covered. We are still enjoying the results of their labor. One thing I was not aware of is that Franklin Roosevelt and his Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, were very interested in National Parks and the best friends of the parks in Washington since Theodore Roosevelt. It was they who brought battlefields and memorials into the Park Service as well as adding several more parks.

The featured park was Everglades NP, which was the first National Park to be created for the purpose of preserving wildlife rather than scenery or history. This new attitude was largely due to George Wright, a Park Service biologist who studied wildlife in the parks and stressed its importance. He helped institute modern wildlife management techniques, specifically letting wildlife be wild rather than entertainment. Grand Teton NP was finally expanded to include Jackson Hole after Rockefeller issued an ultimatum. He had held the land for 15 years and was getting tired of waiting. He told the president to either accept the land donation or he would sell it. The ultimatum had the desired effect.

Tonight is the final episode, which will feature the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the only decent thing to come out of Jimmy Carter's administration.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Parks Become Popular

Last night's episode of The National Parks: America's Best Idea largely focused on the increasing popularity of the National Parks. This was due to two factors: the rise of the automobile and Stephen Mather's realization that he must make the parks car-friendly to attract more people which would then encourage Congress to authorize more parks. Mather was a practical man. His PR man Robert Sterling Yard was an idealist and thought Mather was ruining the parks. He founded the National Parks Association (now the National Parks Conservation Association) and co-founded the Wilderness Society.

One of the highlight for me was following the Gehrtz family as they visited as many National Parks as they could. It reminded me of The War, where we followed certain soldiers through their experiences. The other highlight was the beginning of the National Park rangers, trained professionals who replaced inept political appointees. If I were a bit younger and didn't care much about salary, being a ranger would be my dream job.

The main parks in this episode were Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains. The park service finally got rid of all private claims in the former and the latter was authorized and realized. Also in this episode, John Rockefeller Jr. began secretly buying up land in Jackson Hole for addition to Grand Teton NP. Tonight's episode should be interesting when the cattlemen find out. Also in tonight's episode will be the CCC, in my opinion Roosevelt's greatest idea.