So I’m just back from lunch with Ken Burns. Ok, so maybe it was me, Ken Burns, and a room full of other journalists at the National Press Club, but the man is such a captivating speaker that it’s as if he’s sitting across the table from you, instead of across the room.
Burns was there to speak about the launch of his six-part, 12-hour documentary series, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” which began airing on PBS last night and will continue throughout the week. It was a ten-year process to create, and Burns explained that its focus is not on the majesty of the parks themselves, but the individuals who worked incredibly hard to create the parks in order to protect these “still wild places.” His aim was to celebrate both the “love of place and a love of nation” that the parks have come to stand for.
After his presentation, the room full of journalists was ready with questions, and Burns continued to be as articulate in his off-the-cuff remarks as he had been in his speech. He said he’d love to see Dinosaur National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument receive full national park designations, and that his “fervent wish” was for more families, particularly families of color, to begin to go out and experience the parks.
He also unequivocally stated his objection to the use of firearms in the parks, calling the idea “foolish” and noting that they would essentially make “all species of all kind… threatened in the national parks.” And he said that the story of the parks did not airbrush out controversy, citing the relocation of over “300 other nations” of Native peoples as one of the largest offenses. He pointed to the designation of other landmarks, from the Oklahoma City National Memorial, to the Brown vs. Board of Education Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas, to the Flight 93 National Memorial, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, as national “places of shame,” saying, “our national parks are not just about geology, but the ethnic, political, and military history of this country.”
Burns also called the parks “spiritual places” where we can have “open-heart surgery” on our souls. Those who visit are often transformed, he said, and the parks make us feel connected to others. “The parks are nothing less than the Declaration of Independence applied to the landscape,” he said. “It’s a reminder of our best selves.”
You can watch “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” all this week on PBS, check here for local listings. To learn more about the parks from National Geographic, you have no shortage of options. Get an overview of all the parks at NationalGeographic.com, and find our picks for ten classic parks (with more coming soon!) on Traveler’s website.
Photo: via PBS
- Nat Geo Expeditions