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National Parks: America’s Best Idea: The Last Refuge (1890-1915)

Airs Wednesday, February 3, 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, Theodore Roosevelt did more for the national park idea than any other president in history. During a cross-country trip in 1903, he spent three nights camping alone in Yosemite with the other great champion of the parks, mountain prophet John Muir, who enlisted Roosevelt into making Yosemite Valley part of a larger national park. Pictured: Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir, Yosemite National Park, 1903

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 II, "The Last Refuge (1890-1915):" By the end of the 19th century, widespread industrialization has left many Americans worried about whether the country — once a vast wilderness — will have any pristine land left. At the same time, poachers in the parks are rampant, and visitors think nothing of littering or carving their names near iconic sites like Old Faithful. Congress has yet to establish clear judicial authority or appropriations for the protection of the parks. This sparks a conservation movement by organizations such as the Sierra Club, led by John Muir; the Audubon Society, led by George Bird Grinnell; and the Boone and Crockett Club, led by Theodore Roosevelt. The movement fails, however, to stop San Francisco from building the Hetch Hetchy dam at Yosemite, flooding Muir’s “mountain temple” and leaving him broken-hearted before he dies.

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 III, "The Empire of Grandeur (1915-1919)"

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)"