The National Parks: America's Best Idea – a six-episode Ken Burns film – tells an epic story spanning a century and a half of our nation's history and ranging from one corner of the country to the other: from the southernmost tip of Florida to the frozen tundra of Alaska, from the rocky coast of Maine to the volcanic Hawaiian islands. It is the story of an idea as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence and just as radical: that the most magnificent places we possess belong not to royalty or the rich, but to everyone – and for all time. Set against the most spectacular landscapes on earth, it chronicles that idea from its first expression in the mid-1800s through the late 1990s.
Like the idea of America itself -- full of competing demands between local rights and those of the nation; between the impulses of idealism and exploitation, the sacred and the profitable; between the immediate desires of one generation and its obligation and promise to the next – the national park idea has been constantly debated, constantly tested and is constantly evolving, ultimately embracing places that also preserve the nation's first principles, its highest aspirations, its greatest sacrifices – even reminders of its most shameful mistakes.
Most of all, the story of the national parks is the story of people: people from every conceivable background – rich and poor; famous and unknown; soldiers and scientists; natives and newcomers; idealists, artists and entrepeneurs. People who were willing to devote themselves to saving some precious portion of the land they loved -- and in doing so, reminded their fellow citizens of the full meaning of democracy.
Beginning with a montage of breathtaking scenery that sets the stage for the human drama of the entire series, this first episode establishes the national parks as both a "treasure house of Nature's superlatives" and a quintessentially democratic idea, that "magnificence is a common treasure."
The narrative begins in 1851, when a band of Indian fighters enters Yosemite Valley in California to dispossess the natives who call it home. They encounter a place of astonishing beauty – setting in motion events that bring other newcomers to the valley. One of the first, James Mason Hutchings, a failed prospector, hopes to make a fortune publicizing Yosemite's scenery and running a tourist hotel in the valley.
In 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, Congress sets the valley and a grove of giant sequoias aside from private development, but entrusts them to the care of the state of California – the first time such a huge tract of land (more than 60 square miles) had been preserved for future generations. Frederick Law Olmsted, creator of a man-made park in New York City, becomes one of the first state commissioners of the Yosemite Grant and lays out a manifesto declaring public parks a "duty" of healthy democracies, warning against any impairment of the valley's scenic beauty, and calling on the state to not only develop roads into Yosemite but to enforce regulations for its protection. His report is quietly suppressed.
Among those ignoring Olmsted's call for careful preservation of the valley is Hutchings, technically a squatter on what is now public land, who continues expanding his tourists operations. Then, in the fall of 1869, he hires a Scottish-born wanderer named John Muir, who will become the park idea's most eloquent spokesman. Muir – part scientist, part mystic – develops theories (derided at the time, now accepted) about the work of glaciers in creating Yosemite Valley; and yet he also calls it a "sanctum sanctorum" where God reveals himself through nature. Through his writings, he begins urging Americans to see that "wildness is a necessity" and to appreciate places like Yosemite for reasons other than their economic value.
Meanwhile, in the northwest corner of Wyoming Territory, reports emerge of a fantastical place at the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, where mud boils and steam spouts from the ground. An exploration, prompted in part by a railroad hoping to lure passengers to such an attraction, confirms the rumors – though one member, the near-sighted Truman Everts, becomes hopelessly lost and nearly perishes. When a government survey brings back the first paintings and photographs of this "wonderland," and in 1872, after politicians are persuaded that it is unsuited for farming and mining, Congress creates the first national park in world history, Yellowstone, but does nothing to provide for its protection.
In 1877, George and Emma Cowan, a young couple celebrating their second anniversary, find out just how wild and lawless the new park can be, when they are caught in the midst of an Indian war within Yellowstone's boundaries. Later, the railroad moves in to monopolize the choicest locations, but a crusading sportsman named George Bird Grinnell fights to keep the "people's park" out of commercial hands. And in 1886, with Yellowstone increasingly vulnerable to poachers, vandals, and profiteers, General Phil Sheridan intervenes: the U.S. Cavalry rides to the park's rescue.
By now John Muir, the mountain prophet, has become a famous voice for nature, but after marrying and settling down as a fruit farmer, he becomes restless. He visits Alaska and its glaciers, climbs Mount Rainier, then returns to his beloved Yosemite, where he realizes California has not been adequately protecting his "sacred temple." And the mountain ramparts in the Sierras above it are being destroyed by sheep and lumbermen. He begins a struggle to have it all preserved as a national park. His campaign is partially successful: the high country portion becomes Yosemite National Park in 1890, but the valley and big trees are kept under the lackluster supervision of the state. - back to top
As the 19th century concludes, some Americans begin to question the nation's headlong rush across the continent that has devastated forests, ravaged entire species of animals, and left fewer and fewer pristine places intact. Theodore Roosevelt, a young New York politician, hurries west to shoot a buffalo before they disappear. Rudyard Kipling, a cynical travel writer, visits Yellowstone in the company of wealthy tourists who think nothing of etching their names into Old Faithful. And the Army (including the African-American "Buffalo Soldiers") tries to protect the parks, but is hobbled by the lack of clear legal authority to punish wrongdoers.
In 1889, the Wetherill brothers, cowboys in southwestern Colorado, stumble across the ruins of an ancient civilization in the cliffs of Mesa Verde. When they and a Swedish nobleman named Gustaf Nordenskiold excavate the ruins and prepare to ship the artifacts to Scandinavia, an uproar ensues, but there is no law to prevent it. A headstrong lecturer named Virginia McClurg galvanizes Colorado women's clubs to preserve Mesa Verde's ruins as a national park, while Richard Wetherill's excavations at New Mexico's Chaco Canyon prompt Congress to pass the Antiquities Act, giving Presidents the unique power to unilaterally set aside parcels of federal land as National Monuments – a tool that will prove one of the most important levers in the national parks story.
In response to the widespread destruction of America's natural bounty, new organizations are being formed. John Muir founds the Sierra Club. George Bird Grinnell starts the Audubon Society and, with Theodore Roosevelt, creates the Boone and Crockett Club, a group of wealthy easterners with an interest in big game hunting, whose political clout Grinnell and Roosevelt use on behalf of conservation. They turn the case of a poacher in Yellowstone, who was killing some of the last remaining bison on the continent, into a cause celebré that at last results in legislation more fully protecting the wildlife and scenic attractions there.
John Muir and the nation's first professional forester, Gifford Pinchot, split over how best to stop the wasteful destruction of forests. Muir wants them made into parks; Pinchot believes in more scientific methods of logging – and Pinchot prevails, with the creation of the National Forest Service. But Muir is able to turn at least one national forest preserve into a park: Mount Rainier in Washington State. A Kansas boy named William Gladstone Steel, drawn to Oregon by a story in the newspaper wrapped around his lunch, comes to Crater Lake and launches a 17-year crusade to save it as a national park. And an arch-conservative Republican Congressman from Iowa, John F. Lacey, becomes the unlikely champion of a series of progressive conservation laws.
But conservation's greatest champion is the new president, Theodore Roosevelt. In 1903 he embarks on an ambitious tour of the West, which includes two weeks camping in Yellowstone. He delights in the park's wildlife, now flourishing because of the new protections (though he has to be persuaded against hunting cougars), and upon his departure he declares the "essential democracy" of the park idea. During a brief stop at the Grand Canyon, he admonishes the people of Arizona to "leave it as it is." Next he spends three days in Yosemite camping alone with John Muir, who inspires Roosevelt to reclaim Yosemite Valley from the state of California and provide it with better protection as a national park. Several years later, a letter from Muir prompts the president to use the Antiquities Act to save Arizona's Petrified Forest as a national monument. And then – over the protests of Congress and local politicians -- Roosevelt stretches the Act to its limit, with a stroke of his pen setting aside 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon as a national monument.
The episode ends with the dramatic story of the fight over whether San Francisco, eager for a better water supply, can build a dam in the Hetch Hetchy Valley of Yosemite National Park. To Muir, flooding the valley would be a sacrilege; to Pinchot, now a close adviser of President Roosevelt's, it would be the "greatest good for the greatest number." A lengthy and heated controversy results, but in the end Pinchot prevails again: Roosevelt does nothing to stop him, and plans move forward to bury Muir's "mountain temple" under a water reservoir. Broken-hearted and exhausted from the battle, the 76-year-old Muir dies. - back to top
As the park idea turns 50 years old, America boasts a dozen national parks, usually set aside at the urging of individuals willing to turn their passion for a particular landscape into a crusade. But the parks are really just a haphazard collection of special places under the supervision of three different federal departments. The defeat at Hetch Hetchy has persuaded conservationists that a new agency is needed, one with the sole responsibility of protecting the national parks. With the death of John Muir, a new generation of park proponents will step forward: an unlikely alliance that includes railroad barons, adventurers, and some of the nation's wealthiest men.
In central Colorado, an innkeeper and Muir acolyte named Enos Mills works to have the Long's Peak region preserved as Rocky Mountain National Park. In northern Montana, the Great Northern Railway is firmly in charge of the newly created Glacier National Park, encouraging upper class Easterners to "See America First" instead of visiting Europe. And in the territory of Hawaii, a coalition of scientists and boosters finally convinces Congress to set aside some dormant and active volcanoes as a national park – though no money is appropriated to run it on the belief, one Senator explains, that "it should not cost anything to run a volcano."
On the coast of Maine, where the choicest sites along the Atlantic are steadily being purchased by "cottagers" building elaborate estates, the idealistic Charles Eliot draws up a plan to make more of Mount Desert Island accessible to the public – but dies at age 38. His father takes up the cause and recruits George Dorr, who quickly turns over his life to it, as well as much of his inheritance, buying parcels of land which their organization offers as a gift to the federal government. When President Wilson accepts the gift and uses the Antiquities Act to declare it a national monument, Dorr vows to keep working on enlarging it – and to having it become a national park.
Meanwhile, a millionaire businessman named Stephen Mather impulsively accepts the offer to oversee the national parks for one year. Mather, a promotional genius responsible for Twenty Mule Team Borax, launches a crusade to publicize the parks as a system and to persuade Congress to create a single agency to oversee it. As his right-hand man he hires young Horace Albright, a lawyer as steady and methodical as Mather is mercurial. Mather goes on a tour of the parks, opens his wallet at every stop to buy parcels of land which he donates as park expansions, and takes his well-connected friends on a camping trip to Sequoia National Park, where he enlists them in his cause with his infectious enthusiasm.
Back in Washington, Mather's publicity blitz reaches a crescendo in 1916 with the passage of a bill establishing the National Park Service, whose dual mission Albright admits is a "paradox" – to make the parks accessible to all Americans for their use and enjoyment, yet also preserve them "unimpaired" for future generations. At the moment of triumph, Mather is incapacitated by depression and requires hospitalization, a secret Albright has to keep while he fills in as acting director of the new agency.
Up in Alaska, a friend of Mather's, Charles Sheldon, has become convinced that the area surrounding the continent's highest peak, Mount McKinley, needs to become a national park – not just because of the majestic mountain that has lured and challenged climbers for years, but because of the diverse array of wildlife teeming around it, especially the rare Dall sheep, under siege by market hunters. Sheldon joins forces with the Boone and Crockett Club and Mount McKinley National Park (now Denali National Park) is set aside.
Horace Albright struggles to run the infant Park Service during World War I, fending off attempts to permit grazing in park meadows and cutting of park trees, and he wins exemptions from railroad travel restrictions so Americans can still visit their parks. At the same time, he becomes enchanted with a beautiful spot in southwestern Utah – a colorful canyon described as "Yosemite done in oils" – and helps preserve it as Zion National Park. When Stephen Mather returns to the job, he, too, pushes for more parks in the Southwest: Bryce Canyon and Arches in Utah, and a spot in Nevada that eventually becomes Great Basin National Park. But his top priority is in Arizona. He wants the Grand Canyon saved as a park, not as a national monument.
By this time, the Grand Canyon has a long history as a tourist attraction, exemplified by the enterprising Kolb brothers, who photograph everyone who sets off on a mule train from the rim down to the Colorado River, and who themselves make a daring descent of the Colorado with a motion picture camera. But the person who dominates the region is a prospector and hotel owner named Ralph Henry Cameron, who has claims on the most strategically located spots. Cameron considers Mather's efforts for a national park a direct economic and political threat, and he successfully keeps things tied up until 1919 when the park is finally created. Newly elected to the U.S. Senate, Cameron vows revenge.
Back in Maine, George Dorr's campaign for a national park at Mount Desert Island continues, now aided by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., from the nation's richest family. Rockefeller has decided to devote some of his fortune to philanthropy, and helps Dorr purchase more of the island for donation to the American people. In 1919 – on the same day as the Grand Canyon – Acadia National Park is created.
Stephen Mather's one-year commitment to the parks has already stretched into five, but he now has a string of new parks added to his system and a new agency under his command. He decides to stay on -- and believes that a new mode of transportation sweeping the nation might help him bring more people to the parks. - back to top
As the nation enters the 1920s – an era of growing prosperity that permits more and more people to escape the crowded cities of the East – Stephen Mather and Horace Albright push for higher visitation numbers in order to convince Congress to provide the funding for the park system they are building. To "democratize" the national parks and attract more Americans to them, the two men will ally themselves with a machine already transforming American life – the automobile. But some park supporters begin worrying that they are making a devil's bargain.
Margaret and Edward Gehrke, a childless couple from Lincoln, Nebraska, represent the enduring personal attachment Americans are developing toward their parks, as well as the rapidly changing ways of visiting them. Through Margaret's eloquent diaries and Edward's snapshots, this episode follows them on a series of park tours. The first – to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Glacier – is by train. Margaret is hooked, and she begins planning more trips, whose start she will always note in her journal as "the day of days."
To draw attention to the parks, Mather considers all sorts of promotions – from buffalo stampedes in Yellowstone to a cable car across the Grand Canyon – but his most important decision is joining forces with car manufacturers, road builders and chambers of commerce to encourage people to come to the parks in an automobile. By the end of 1920, visitation to the parks tops 1 million for the first time; four years later, it doubles to 2 million. The advent of cars in the parks creates challenges for the young Park Service – where people can park, for instance – but Mather believes it has been the "open sesame" for what he is trying to achieve.
He also sets out to professionalize park management, replacing incompetent superintendents who got their jobs through political patronage with skilled men dedicated to Mather's vision. And under them, he develops a cadre of park rangers, with a distinctive uniform and the ability to not only protect the parks but to explain their purpose to the millions of visitors pouring in.
Margaret and Edward Gehrke embark on an ambitious, 7,000 mile journey to visit more parks – Rocky Mountain, Crater Lake, Mount Rainier -- which only whets their appetite for more trips – to Acadia in Maine, Wind Cave in South Dakota, Hot Springs in Arkansas, and Mesa Verde in Colorado. Like many Americans, they are "collecting" parks; and their proof is the stickers from each park pasted on their windshield. (That tradition is echoed in modern times through the story of Tuan Luong, a Paris-born Vietnamese photographer who has now visited all 58 national parks and taken exquisite photos with his large format camera.)
Horace Kephart, a reclusive writer who found refuge in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, helps launch a campaign to save the last stands of virgin forest from destruction by making it a national park. He is joined by George Masa, a Japanese immigrant who has taken up photography. Stephen Mather also supports adding another park in the East and Congress eventually agrees, but will not spend federal money to purchase the land. Fund-raising campaigns begin in both states, including people from all walks of life – from bellhops in city hotels to schoolchildren raiding their piggybanks. It's uncertain whether they'll be able to get the money together before the Smokies are completely logged.
Meanwhile, in the Grand Canyon, Mather's arch nemesis Ralph Henry Cameron, now a United States Senator, has unveiled plans to build two hydroelectric dams and an aluminum plant within park boundaries. There are similar plans for dams in other parks. Mather rallies the American people to stop the proposals in Congress, and after Cameron sets out for political revenge, Mather eventually prevails again. In 1928, hoping to become famous, a young couple from Idaho named Glenn and Bessie Hyde decide to spend their honeymoon taking a homemade boat down the raging Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Their thrilling – and tragic – adventure is told through Bessie's journal entries and snapshots.
Horace Albright, now superintendent of Yellowstone, becomes dedicated to expanding the park southward to include the magnificent Teton Range and the valley next to it, called Jackson Hole in Wyoming. After explaining his dream to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. he is overwhelmed when Rockefeller agrees to secretly purchase as much of the valley as possible, with the aim of donating the land to an expanded park. In 1929, Congress creates Grand Teton National Park, but it is much smaller than Albright and Rockefeller hoped, covering only the eastern flank of the mountains. Rockefeller is undeterred and keeps on secretly buying land on the valley floor.
By 1928, Mather's embrace of the automobile results in 3 million people visiting parks – and Congress begins supporting the parks with more money, especially for better roads. At Glacier National Park, Mather decides on a more expensive, but less obtrusive road through the mountains that sets a new precedent: landscape architects, not road engineers, will now play a bigger role in designing the entire park experience for tourists arriving by car. But now, an old friend and fellow park supporter, Robert Sterling Yard, begins questioning whether Mather's insistence on more park roads – and even more parks, such as Mammoth Cave and Shenandoah – has gone too far. Yard and others begin the Wilderness Society to resist the Park Service's plans.
Mather pushes on, believing that bringing a wider segment of the American public into the parks – not just the upper class any longer, but the rapidly expanding middle class – is a good way to make them better citizens. In 1928, he suffers a stroke, and he dies in 1930, leaving behind a cohesive national park system, overseen by a professional park service, and now being visited by millions of Americans each year.
Back in the Smoky Mountains, Horace Kephart, George Masa and others are struggling to raise the money needed to buy the land for a new park, an increasingly difficult task with the start of the Great Depression. Help comes from John D. Rockefeller Jr. – and then from a new president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who for the first time in history commits federal money for the purchase of private land to become a national park. Creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, however, is bittersweet. Five thousand local residents are dispossessed; Horace Kephart dies in a car crash; and then Masa, too, dies penniless.
Margaret and Edward Gehrke are still trying to visit every national park in the Lower 48 – now driving a car with a new radio, and traveling over paved roads. They revisit the Grand Canyon and then add Sequoia, General Grant, Yosemite, Lassen Volcanic, Zion, and Bryce Canyon to their list. Edward builds them a "house car" – an early, homemade RV – but dies before they can take it to a national park. At age 65, Margaret makes an emotional return to their favorite park, Rocky Mountain, but this time goes by train. - back to top
In 1929, a 90-year-old woman named Totuya returns to Yosemite Valley for a poignant reunion with the landscape that had been part of her upbringing. She is the granddaughter of Chief Tenaya, the leader of the Ahwahneechees who had been driven out of their homeland by the Mariposa Battalion in 1851. In the valley, Totuya finds much has changed – and some things are very much the same.
With the end of the 1920s, the United States enters two of the darkest and most frightening decades of 20th century – including an economic catastrophe threatening the foundation of American society and another world war threatening the existence of freedom. The national parks will be profoundly affected by it all -- for a time, actually thriving as never before, and then undergoing one dramatic change after another.
In April of 1933, during a car ride with the newly inaugurated Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Horace Albright persuades the president that Civil War battlefields should be under the care of the National Park Service, not the War Department. Roosevelt orders a sweeping reorganization that expands the national park idea to embrace not just battlefields but other historic and iconic sites as well – from the Statue of Liberty to Mount Rushmore to the Lincoln Memorial. National parks now embrace the idea of America itself.
Meanwhile, a young Park Service biologist named George Melendez Wright begins arguing that the parks are concentrating too exclusively on attracting visitors and not enough on another vital mission: protecting wildlife in their natural state. He and two companions set out on a 11,000 mile, 4-year survey of wildlife conditions, which confirms his suspicions. Albright hires Wright to start a new wildlife division within the agency, though most park managers, accustomed to treating some wildlife like pets and eliminating others as pests, are not yet convinced of Wright's theories.
In south Florida, the Everglades – a unique environment and sanctuary for thousands of birds – is under siege from municipalities and farmers trying to drain it to make way for development. But a landscape architect named Ernest Coe and Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a feisty Miami reporter, try to save it as a national park. Many conservationists are skeptical, considering the Everglades a scenically uninteresting and worthless swamp, but after touring the area (much of it by blimp), Horace Albright and George Melendez Wright recognize its importance. For the first time in history, after a narrow vote in Congress, a national park is created solely for the preservation of animals and plants and the environment that sustains them.
Early in the Great Depression, which has thrown one out of every four wage earners out of work, President Roosevelt creates the Civilian Conservation Corps to provide young men with jobs. Eventually, 3 million of them will work in the program, improving conditions at national and state parks. Among them are Juan Lujan of Redford, Texas; Burton Appleton of Brooklyn, New York; and Claude Tyler of Blossom, Texas. By their own vivid accounts, the CCC not only provides their families with much-needed money to survive the Depression, it introduces them to a wider world. Ironically, because of the infusion of workers and funds, the Depression becomes a "golden age" for the parks.
In pushing his theories that national parks need to preserve wildlife as much as scenery, George Melendez Wright helps save the trumpeter swans from extinction and then joins a commission studying the Big Bend National Park in Texas as a possible international park. On his way home, he is killed in a car accident at age 31. The wildlife division he has founded withers without his leadership.
Despite the hard times, President Roosevelt urges Americans to visit their national parks if possible, and sets a personal example of going to many of them, despite the disease that has ravaged his legs. He becomes the greatest presidential champion of the parks since the time of his famous cousin Theodore Roosevelt, and sets aside more places that will become parks – from Joshua Tree to the Dry Tortugas to Capitol Reef and the Channel Islands. He and his pugnacious Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, are unafraid of taking on powerful entrenched interests in behalf of national parks, a trait they demonstrate in the state of Washington when they battle powerful timber interests to create Olympic National Park.
In Seattle, Iwao and Hanaye Matsushita fall in love with Mount Rainier, which reminds them of Mount Fuji in their Japanese homeland, and spend every possible weekend on its slopes. In California, another Japanese immigrant, Chiura Obata, finds inspiration for his art in the Sierras of Yosemite National Park. A little farther south, an aspiring photographer named Ansel Adams revives an old dream of John Muir's when his pictures prompt Harold Ickes and President Roosevelt to push for a wilderness park in the Kings Canyon area. Based on that success, Ickes hires Adams to take photographs in all the national parks.
World War II places strains on the parks: attendance dwindles, budgets shrink, and pressures mount to open them for mining, grazing and lumbering. At the same time, the parks provide much needed havens of rest for battle-weary soldiers. They also provide succor to the Matsushitas and Chiura Obata, who are removed from their homes and incarcerated in internment camps; through powerful words and pictures, they describe how the memories of their time in the parks sustained them in their darkest hours.
In 1943, President Roosevelt ignites an uproar when he tries to expand Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming by accepting a gift of land in Jackson Hole that has been secretly purchased by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The battle rages for seven years until a compromise finally settles things. And in Washington, the African-American contralto Marian Anderson, denied the opportunity to sing at Constitution Hall because of her race, performs before a much bigger audience on the steps of one of the newest additions to the national park system: the Lincoln Memorial. - back to top
With the end of World War II, an increasingly mobile and affluent nation begins placing demands on the parks as never before. Yearly attendance skyrockets from a low of 6.8 million in 1943 to nearly 32 million by 1950. The age-old balancing act between preservation and use will be severely tested, but at the same time the park idea will continue expanding and evolving – and then be reinvigorated for a new generation.
A young biologist named Adolph Murie picks up the mantle of George Melendez Wright, arguing that ingrained practices such as killing predators runs counter to the purpose of national parks. His study of coyotes in Yellowstone creates controversy, but not nearly so much as his revolutionary proposals in Alaska's Mount McKinley National Park that wolves should be protected, not eradicated.
In Utah, after the family of 72-year-old Harold Bradley floats down the Yampa River through Dinosaur National Monument, Bradley uses his home movies to galvanize David Brower and the Sierra Club against plans for two huge dams there. In what is considered the birth of a more modern, aggressive environmental movement, Brower then mobilizes the public to defeat the dam proposals in Congress.
By the mid-1950s, with attendance now topping 62 million visitors a year, the parks are in danger of being "loved to death." To make necessary improvements, the Park Service embarks on a nearly billion-dollar program called Mission 66. Some critics don't like the architecture of the new buildings and complain about all the new construction that bring more and more tourists into pristine places – epecially the Tioga Road in Yosemite's high country. But family automobile trips to national parks have now become an American rite of passage, creating imperishable memories as proven by anecdotes from a series of interviews.
Under Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall in the 1960s, the parks experience their most ambitious program of growth since FDR's administration. Redwood, Guadalupe, North Cascades, and Canyonlands national parks are added to the system, as well as national seashores and recreation areas, national trails, and wild and scenic rivers. A new Park Service director, George Hartzog, pushes for more historical sites and a greater urban presence -- and then witnesses two unforgettable moments at the Lincoln Memorial, one intensely personal and the other a speech that marks a turning point in United States history.
Adolph Murie fights a Mission 66 plan for a highway and major tourist development in the heart of McKinley National Park. He prevails with the help of Hartzog, who then goes on to stop the popular "firefall" in Yosemite and the equally popular bear feedings in Yellowstone, because they are deemed no longer appropriate in a national park.
Near the fast-growing city of Miami, Lancelot Jones, a grandson of slaves, decides to resist plans for developing the last unspoiled string of islands in Biscayne Bay and refuses to sell his property on three of the keys. Juanita Greene, a reporter for the Miami Herald, and her friend Lloyd Miller lead the public fight for permanent protection of the islands, which results in victory in 1968. Jones then sells his land to the federal government for creation of Biscayne National Monument.
In 1972, the world's first national park, Yellowstone, celebrates its 100th birthday. By now there are 38 national parks in the United States, as well as roughly 200 historic sites and national monuments, visited by 165 million people a year. And the park idea has spread around the globe: 4,000 national parks in 200 countries.
In the late 1970s, the focus shifts to Alaska when President Jimmy Carter uses the Antiquities Act to set aside 56 million acres of land as national monuments. A huge uproar results; Carter is burned in effigy at protests staged by people opposed to having the land preserved from development. John Cook, a third-generation Park Service employee, is dispatched to Alaska to try to calm the resistance, while in Washington the largest grassroots movement in conservation history – 1,500 organizations representing 10 million members -- fights for passage of a permanent Alaska lands bill. In a compromise reached in 1980, seven new Alaska parks are created and 47 million acres are protected, more than doubling the size of the park system. Mount McKinley National Park is also doubled in size, and its title is restored to its Athabaskan Indian name, Denali.
With the main narrative of the series completed, a few vignettes touch on the major themes. John Cook's daughter, Kayci, becomes a fourth generation Park Service superintendent, while Ranger Shelton Johnson, who grew up in Detroit, demonstrates that a love of national parks does not have to be inherited. The park idea keeps evolving as new historic sites are added, including some that are meant to remind Americans of painful episodes in their past – from slavery to segregation, Indian massacres to Japanese internment. By the end of the 1990s, park attendance nears 300 million visitors a year. And in 1995, wolves are re-established in Yellowstone, making the world's first national park a little more like what it once was. - back to top