The National Parks: America’s Best Idea

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This book was a companion to a Ken Burns documentary on PBS that I caught a few years back. Dayton Duncan I believe wrote the book with Ken Burns.

I loved it. And I’m going to plug this project, and the Park Service, and the parks.

I am a citizen of the United States, for those who care, and I’m passionate about animals, the environment, and public lands. I loved the documentary, and the book, but I have not been to many of the parks. My current list of parks I’ve visited is:
Zion National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Arches National Park
Capitol Reef National Park
Canyonlands National Park
Acadia National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park
Muir Woods National Monument
Golden Gate National Recreation Area

I have never felt healthier than when hiking through Zion National Park. Visiting Acadia National Park was the highlight of my 2016. I snorkeled at Dry Tortugas earlier this year. I can’t wait to head to Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains. I am planning trips to Glacier, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, Grand Teton, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and every other park I can possibly get to.

While I have always been interested in America’s great outdoors, this book and film combination really made me sit up and say, “I want to see America.”

The book, like the film, went into the details of how the parks came to be, who the major players were (John Muir, President Theodore Roosevelt, Stephen Mather, etc), and the changing role of the park service, focusing particularly on the first/oldest and some of the most visited parks: Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, etc…

Today, Americans overwhelmingly support their parks. Millions of visitors frequent the parks each year – more popular parks like Yellowstone are considering limiting visitor numbers because they’re so crowded and they have trouble keeping up. Even those Americans with no plans on visiting a national park believe they should be protected and preserved for future generations. And somehow, for some reason, the parks and the parks service are always under threat.

Americans have screwed a lot of things up over the years. It’s no secret. But we’ve done a lot of good things too. And this whole national parks thing? The idea that these fantastic places with these unbelievable landscapes and incredible wildlife belong to all of us, and not just to the privileged few? That is something we got right.

If you have the opportunity to take a good look at this book, and the documentary, do it. The scenery and wildlife aside, the National Park system, the fight for the common people to be able to visit the last wild places in America, to have a backyard to call their own, is the United States that inspires greatness, that dares the world to be better, that leads by example and says with an extended hand, “Come on, you can follow us.”

To know that country, to see what it is capable of when it’s being its best self, is well worth the time.

“There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1936
“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” – Wallace Stenger, 1983

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