Friday, July 17, 2009

Our National Parks

This year, Ken Burns is set to release his new documentary The National Parks: America's Best Idea. After visiting several national parks, reflect on Burns' provocative title and on what visiting the parks means/has meant to you.

After reading many of my classmates' posts on the Grand Canyon, the Redwoods, Glacier, Yellowstone, Niagara Falls, and the badlands, I can't decide if I've taken them for granted or if they mean so much to me that I just can't imagine America without them.

Americans have had so many fantastic ideas: it's hard to pick a "best" one. But I understand why Burns would call his book exactly that: with this title Burns conveys his utmost respect for the parks and prepares us to hear a serious argument on their contribution to the American identity.

To me, designating national parks is a wonderful way to preserve the American frontier. We've explored it all and settled most of it. But the national parks are to be left untouched and unchanged. A powerful reminder of the Creator's magnificent artistry.

Some parks are more popular than others. Why? Location, accessibility, marketing, superlative notability (the biggest, the deepest, the longest, the tallest...), and perceived glamour all play into the decision to visit a national park.

There must have been several visitors from every country in the world at the Grand Canyon when we were there. Walking along the South Rim, I passed a string of visitors -- at least 30 or 40 -- each group speaking a different language. Two weeks later, we drove through the Badlands of South Dakota (of which my photos are missing...hoping to find them soon!) It was absolutely breathtaking, and absolutely void of visitors.

Part of me wants to start an ad campaign: "Visit the Badlands, they're really not that bad!" The selfish side of me wants to keep it a secret so that I can go there and be completely alone for a time.

Our national parks may not be America's best idea, but they certainly are America's best kept secret.


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