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Ken Burns visits the national parks

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Ken Burns visits the national parks




'The National Parks: America's Best Idea,' a six-part documentary, premieres Sept. 27 on PBS.


By Martin Miller, Maria Elena Fernandez and Kate Aurthur

August 3, 2009


Better make those park reservations now.


Ken Burns' "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," a six-part, 12-hour documentary celebrating the virtues of the country's nearly 400 federally protected spaces, sets up camp on PBS on Sept. 27 and stays through Oct. 2.


The country's most famous documentarian, who spoke Saturday during the semiannual Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena, is hoping to do for the national parks what he did for its battlefields after the airing of his landmark PBS series "The Civil War" when visits to sites like Gettysburg skyrocketed by as much as 300%.


"We want the superintendents angry at us because of all the Popsicle wrappers they'll have to clean up," Burns said. "It's a good problem to have."


Collateral nuisances like trash and traffic jams notwithstanding, large swells of visitors will help ensure the park system's vitality and transcendent importance to the country, Burns said -- although, with about 275 million annual visitors and the green movement on the rise, it seems unlikely the parks will go unnoticed any time soon.


Without the shield of the national park system, Burns argued, places like Yosemite would be a gated community and Yellowstone would be an amusement park.


The American-born idea, which Burns characterized as the Declaration of Independence applied to the landscape, spurred other nations to preserve some of their lands for the public as well. Today, more than 200 countries have set aside more than 4,000 sites.


Asked if the lengthy series was a tough sell, especially in comparison with many of his earlier works about sports, music and war, Burns said no. "The drama is as dramatic as anything else," he said.





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