Everybody's National Parks | ENP 23: Dayton Duncan: A Passion For The Parks
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  • ENP 23: Dayton Duncan: A Passion For The Parks
    02/25/2020
    In this episode, Bryan talks with Dayton Duncan who, along with his creative partner Ken Burns, wrote and produced The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. How has our majestic national park system faired in the decade since PBS first aired that multi-episode documentary? The prolific author offers some insight and takes us on an emotional tour of his favorite park.

    Ken Burns, Dayton Duncan in Grand Teton National Park Buddy Squires, Ken Burns, Dayton Duncan (l-r); Grand Teton National Park - Photo by Craig Mellish


    Documenting National Parks History

    Dayton Duncan, Yosemite National Park Dayton Duncan, Yosemite National Park
    How do you successfully tell a layered, multi-decade tale? Which moments, people, or places do you share and which do you let go of? You sift massive amounts of material through the filter of time. “We’re not journalists. We need about an arm’s length of, say, a generation. 20-25 year distance from the topic.” What remains, Dayton promises, are the most meaningful stories, the ideas and actions that made the thing - be it baseball, country music, or national parks - what it is today. But even at twelve hours long, some anecdotes still wind up on the cutting room floor. In the case of their national parks epic, Dayton’s thankful for the companion book. “That spares me the agony of having written some of those things and have them disappear forever,” he laughs.


    Power To The National Parks & Its People

    Ken Burns, Dayton Duncan, Buddy Squires (l-r);  Kenai Fjords National Park Ken Burns, Dayton Duncan, Buddy Squires (l-r); Kenai Fjords National Park Photo by Kerstin Park-Labellah
    Ken Burns, Dayton Duncan in Grand Teton National Park Ken Burns, Dayton Duncan; Grand Teton National Park - Photo by Craig Mellish
    Dayton Duncan, center, talks with wrangler of pack team, Kings Canyon National Park Dayton Duncan, center, talks with wrangler of pack team, Kings Canyon National Park
    While the grand gestures of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir are well documented, it’s the smaller struggles of lesser-known parks champions that interest Dayton. “This is the story of national parks. And that it’s a story of individual citizens, falling in love with a place so completely and wanting to preserve it so that other people, years later in generations that they would never know, could also fall in love.” Private activism and Congressional support ebbs and flows. “Progress can be made, progress can be lost,” he says, pointing out that some public land gains made by Presidents Obama and Clinton have been revoked by the current administration. Where does that leave the National Park Service? “The national park idea is the Declaration of Independence applied to the landscape. That is to say, the most special places are not the exclusive province of the wealthy or the well-connected or nobility as they had always been in the past. They belong to all of us and need to be preserved for all of us, forever. Just like the definition for what is freedom.” He argues that with this brilliant concept comes massive responsibility. One constant in NPS history is the influence that single individuals and small constituencies can have. The parks aren’t a top-down enterprise; land usage and management issues, as well as climate change, are ours to consider and correct as much as they are the government’s - perhaps even more so.







    The Future Of Our National Parks

    Dayton Duncan, Buddy Squires, Ken Burns shooting at Glacier National Park.  Photo by Craig Mellish Dayton Duncan, Buddy Squires, Ken Burns shooting at Glacier National Park. Photo by Craig Mellish
    Buddy Squires, Dayton Duncan (l-r); Mesa Verde National Park . Photo by Craig Mellish Buddy Squires, Dayton Duncan (l-r); Mesa Verde National Park Photo by Craig Mellish
    When Dayton talks about the NPS, he speaks in relationships: acts of individual advocacy that strengthen the system and memories that bond families to a favorite park throughout generations. As for his favorite national park? Montana’s Glacier National Park. Beyond the gorgeous lakes and spectacular mountain views, his ranking comes down to the small moments he’s shared with family. The landscape is changing, however, and those disappearing glaciers are our canaries in the coal mine. “They’re a prod to the butt and an arrow to the head,” he warns. A call to action that he’s urging us to heed.

    Listen to the Everybody’s National Park’s Ken Burns episode here.







    Discussion Includes the Following:

    0:02 - Introduction to Dayton Duncan: The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, Out West: A Journey Through Lewis And Clark's America, ENP #13 - Ken Burns Interview
    2.27 - Ken Burns films Baseball and Country Music, Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980; Yosemite National Park
    5:56 - Citizen Activism, Part I: Adina Emilia de Zavala, the Alamo
    9:34 - The American Antiquities Act, National Park Service Centennial, national lands protected under the Obama administration
    13:24 - Citizen Activism, Part II: Marjory Stoneman Douglas, John Muir
    17:32 - Preservation And Shrinking Public Lands: Bears Ears National Monument, Yellowstone National Park
    18:39 - Continuing land management challenges, Grand Canyon National Park
    21:37 - Transcendence, Part I: The open space of democracy, Old Faithful, TerryTempest Williams
    24:21 - Parks Promote Relationships
    25:15 - Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon National Park
    27:00 - Badlands National Park, Dinosaur National Monument
    28:24 - Transcendence, Part II: A multi-generation connection to the parks and keeping memories safe
    33:54 - The National Parks: America’s Best Idea companion book, John Muir
    34:55 - Ken Burns’ Mark Twain biography
    36:00 - Revisiting an old favorite: Glacier National Park
    38:30 - Bearing Witness To Climate Change And The Call To Act: Joshua Tree National Park, Many Glacier Hotel, Grinnell Glacier
    42:51 - ENP 2020 plans and preparations
    45:07 - Dayton Duncan, Honorary Park Ranger
    CATEGORY: Podcasts