Saturday, April 25, 2009

Last Wednesday was another remarkable day in a remarkable year of growth and change ... for both me and the park.

Attended a special day at Fort Mason where the members of the media, PBS staff, and some members of park staffs from those parks surrounding the bay gathered to meet Ken Burns. I've rarely seen so many rangers in one place at the same time. We'd been invited to preview parts of the latest PBS documentary created to tell the story of the NPS. It's called, "The National Park System, America's Best Idea." It was an all day event that included a preview not only a part of the 12-hour piece to be shown in late September, but we also heard speeches by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan plus others who figured prominently in a number of parks and programs that are featured in the work.

Burns is indisputably the documentarian of our times, and to have been included in that audience was a great honor, but as with his latest epic "The War," I came away with a sense of frustration.

The work has taken ten years to complete and starts with the early development by men (and they were all male) like John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, Mather, Albright, etc., and those magnificent pristine wild places that were saved for posterity. Yellowstone, being the first followed by Yosemite and other places of natural wonder would later include the historic sites -- the battlefields, monuments, and memorials that tell the story of the nation.

At one point it was realized that the visitation "by the people" who were the owners of the national park system tended to be restricted only to those who could afford the trips and that there was limited access for those who could not. In more recent times the NPS has concentrated on bringing the parks to the people by legislation created to include the protection and preservation of urban historic sites that now enshrine the heroic stories of the Underground Railroad, the Civil Rights Movement, the Native American stories, the Women's Movement, etc., all critically important to the telling of the more complete story of America.

As with "The War" in which the Burns documentary told the western story through Sacramento. It almost completely ignored the Greater Bay Area where the shipbuilding industry pretty much turned the fate of the war in the Pacific by building supply ships faster than the enemy could sink them. Instead he chose to use the (albeit compelling) story of a Japanese family's internment instead. An important story, but the stories that I and millions like me lived as home front workers were missing from the narrative. When taking 12 hours to tell the story, one might suppose that both could be accommodated.

In this week's Burns experience, I felt the disappointment at having the documentary end with the creation of Denali National Wilderness Park in Alaska in the year 1980; more than 20 years ago. That meant that we had not yet reached the point of the beginnings of the urban parks movement and the new more inclusive aspects of park development; so much of which were the "swords into plowshares" parks which included the entire Presidio, Fort Mason, the Marin Headlands, Fort Kronkite, and surely not the entire home front story now being told through the addition of our Rosie the Riveter WWII/Home Front NHP.

Of course he had to stop somewhere, I suppose, but it certainly begs another series that is inclusive of the new directions. Besides, it might have been more enjoyable had he thought to bring Wendy and the Lost Boys along, too.

More later.

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