skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

National Parks: America’s Best Idea: The Empire Of Grandeur (1915-1919)

Airs Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: As revealed in "THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA," a six-part, 12-hour film by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, Ellsworth and Emery Kolb (pictured) established their photographic studio on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in 1902; they embarked on a number of expeditions into the canyon to get dramatic shots of the canyon from places no one had ever dared go before.

Parks Overview

Did you know there are almost 400 parks in the national park system? Use the Park Explorer to find them all, or click on the images to learn more about some of America's most storied and spectacular places.

This 12-hour, six-part documentary series, directed by Ken Burns and co-produced with his longtime colleague, Dayton Duncan, who also wrote the script, is the story of an idea as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence and just as radical: that the most special places in the nation should be preserved, not for royalty or the rich, but for everyone. As such, it follows in the tradition of Burns’s exploration of other American inventions, such as baseball and jazz.

Episode III, "The Empire of Grandeur (1915-1919):" In the early 20th century, America has a dozen national parks, but they are a haphazard patchwork of special places under the supervision of different federal agencies. The conservation movement, after failing to stop the Hetch Hetchy dam, pushes the government to establish one unified agency to oversee all the parks, leading to the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916. Its first director, Stephen Mather, a wealthy businessman and passionate park advocate who fought vigorously to establish the NPS, launches an energetic campaign to expand the national park system and bring more visitors to the parks. Among his efforts is to protect the Grand Canyon from encroaching commercial interests and establish it as a national park, rather than a national monument.

Browse the selection of video clips from the documentary, scenes that had to be cut, and untold stories of "The National Parks."

Find out more about Episode IV: "Going Home (1920-1933)"

Find out more about Episode V, "Great Nature (1933-1945)"

Find out more about Episode VI, "The Morning of Creation (1946-1980)"