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America’s best idea, back on TV all this week

A grizzly bear tries to catch salmon at Katmai National Park and Preserve, which is featured in PBS' The National Parks. (Photo by Craig Mellish)

The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, the 2009 Ken Burns-directed, 12-hour series, returns to television tonight. The series is being rebroadcast by PBS in honor of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary; last week was National Park Week.

Written and produced by Dayton Duncan, it explores the birth and evolution of the United States’ national parks. The six episodes are described below, following the extended preview of the series.

When the six-episode series was first on PBS, the network said 33.4 million people watched some part of it, and that it “was the second most-watched limited series on PBS during the last decade (2000-2009).”

How to watch:

Episodes of The National Parks: America’s Best Idea

Here are PBS’ descriptions of the six episodes, one of which airs each night this week.

  1. The Scripture of Nature, 1851–1890. The astonishing beauty of Yosemite Valley and the geyser wonderland of Yellowstone give birth to the radical idea of creating national parks for the enjoyment of everyone; John Muir becomes their eloquent defender.
  2. The Last Refuge, 1890–1915. A young president, Theodore Roosevelt, becomes one of the national parks’ greatest champions; in Yellowstone, a magnificent species is rescued from extinction; and in Yosemite, John Muir fights the battle of his life to save a beautiful valley.
  3. The Empire of Grandeur, 1915–1919. In John Muir’s absence, a new leader steps forward on behalf of America’s remaining pristine places; a new federal agency is created to protect the parks; and in Arizona, a fight breaks out over the fate of the grandest canyon on earth.
  4. Going Home, 1920–1933. As America embraces the automobile, a Nebraska housewife searches for peace and inspiration in park after park, while a honeymoon couple seeks fame and adventure in the Grand Canyon; and the future of the Great Smoky Mountains becomes caught in a race with the lumbermen’s saws.
  5. Great Nature, 1933–1945. In the midst of an economic catastrophe and then a world war, the national parks provide a source of much-needed jobs and then much-needed peace; the park idea changes to include new places and new ways of thinking; and in Wyoming, battle lines are drawn along the front of the Teton Range.
  6. The Morning of Creation, 1946–1980. A stubborn iconoclast fights a lonely battle on behalf of a species nearly everyone hates; America’s “Last Frontier” becomes a testing ground for the future of the park idea; and in unprecedented numbers, American families create unforgettable memories, passing on a love of the parks to the next generation.

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