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National Parks: America’s Best Idea: Great Nature (1933-1945)

Airs Wednesday, February 24, 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, despite his disability, which confined him to the back seat of his touring car, President Franklin Roosevelt (pictured here viewing the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River) loved to visit national parks — and he encouraged his fellow citizens to do likewise, even during the hard times of the Depression.

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 V, "Great Nature (1933-1945):" To battle unemployment in the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt creates the Civilian Conservation Corps, which spawns a “golden age” for the parks through major renovation projects. In a groundbreaking study, a young NPS biologist named George Melendez Wright discovers widespread abuses of animal habitats and pushes the service to reform its wildlife policies. Congress narrowly passes a bill to protect the Everglades in Florida as a national park — the first time a park has been created solely to preserve an ecosystem, as opposed to scenic beauty. As America becomes entrenched in World War II, Roosevelt is pressured to open the parks to mining, grazing and lumbering. The president also is subjected to a storm of criticism for expanding the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming by accepting a gift of land secretly purchased by John D. Rockefeller Jr.

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 VI, "The Morning of Creation (1946-1980)"