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The National Parks: America's Best Idea

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Title: The National Parks: America's Best Idea  
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Subject: Eli Wallach, National park, Takoma Park, Maryland, Wallace Beery, Ken Burns, Sam Waterston, Philip Sheridan, Hetch Hetchy, Peter Coyote, Stewart Udall
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The National Parks: America's Best Idea

The National Parks:
America's Best Idea
Distributed by Public Broadcasting Service
Directed by Ken Burns
Produced by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan[1]
Written by Dayton Duncan
Narrated by Peter Coyote
Starring Tom Hanks, Andy García, Josh Lucas, Eli Wallach, Campbell Scott, Sam Waterston, John Lithgow, George Takei, Philip Bosco, Carolyn McCormick, Adam Arkin, and Kevin Conway.[2]
Country United States
Release date September 27, 2009 (2009-09-27)[3]
Running time 12 hours[1]

The National Parks: America's Best Idea is a 2009 documentary film for television, DVD and companion book (ISBN 978-0307268969) by director/producer Ken Burns and producer/writer Dayton Duncan which features the United States National Park system and traces the system's history.[1] The series won two 2010 Emmy Awards for outstanding writing in episode 2 "The Last Refuge", and for outstanding non-fiction series.


Peter Coyote is the narrator of all episodes, with first-person voices supplied by Adam Arkin, Philip Bosco, Kevin Conway, Andy García, Tom Hanks, Clay Jenkinson, John Lithgow, Josh Lucas, Carolyn McCormick, Campbell Scott, George Takei, Eli Wallach and Sam Waterston.[2] Shelton Johnson, a National Park ranger,[4] was a surprising hit.


  1. "The Scripture of Nature" (1851–1890) shows the beauty of Yosemite Valley and the geyser wonderland of Yellowstone. Additionally, it offers a lengthy discussion of how Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks were created and shows how John Muir became their eloquent defender. Aired Sunday, September 27, 2009.
  2. "The Last Refuge" (1890–1915) Theodore Roosevelt uses the presidential powers of the Antiquities Act to add National Monuments, including Devils Tower, Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest, Muir Woods, Crater Lake and the Grand Canyon. Hetch Hetchy Valley is lost through damming. Roosevelt's speech at the dedication of Yellowstone's Roosevelt Arch states the ultimate purpose of the National Parks: For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People. Aired Monday, September 28.
  3. "The Empire of Grandeur" (1915–1919) covers the creation of the National Park Service and the influence of its early leaders Stephen Mather and Horace M. Albright, and wealthy industrialists who Mather persuaded to help him champion the park system. Aired Tuesday, September 29.
  4. "Going Home" (1920–1933) focuses on the time when America embraced the automobile, setting off an explosion in the number of park visits. Also, the Rockefellers quietly buy up land in the Teton Mountain Range. Aired Wednesday, September 30.
  5. "Great Nature" (1933–1945) emphasizes the societal impacts of the park concept, including new environmental and naturalistic perspectives, employment opportunities and application of the park idea to additional geographical locations. Aired Thursday, October 1.
  6. "The Morning of Creation" (1946–1980) offers details about the ecological damage caused by 62 million visitors each year and the controversial decision to protect wolves in Alaska which had been hunted to extinction in all other parks. Aired Friday, October 2.

Some foreign releases of the series – notably Australia – have separated it into 12 hour-long episodes.


The film was previewed in a seven-minute segment at the end of the fourth episode of Burns's 2007 PBS documentary, The War. The first two-hour segment premiered at the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College on April 17, 2009. Episodes debuted daily, beginning Sunday September 27 to Friday October 2, with full episodes online the following day.


Funding for the documentary came from WETA and foundations:

plus corporations such as General Motors and Bank of America.[3]


  1. ^ a b c ...The National Parks: America's Best IdeaPBS To Air Ken Burns’s a July 2008 press release from the PBS website
  2. ^ a b LLC, The National Parks Film Project; WETA-TV (2009). "The National Parks: America's Best Idea: About the Series". Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  3. ^ a b Official website from Public Broadcasting Service
  4. ^ LLC, The National Parks Film Project; WETA-TV (2009). "The National Parks: America's Best Idea: Shelton Johnson". Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 2014-10-29. 

External links

  • Official website from Public Broadcasting Service
  • Documentary trailer, Q&A with Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan from the National Park Foundation
  • America's Best IdeaLearn more about from National Park Service Archeology Program
  • The National Parks: America's Best Idea at the Internet Movie Database
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