Filmmaker Ken Burns on national parks and presidents

Source:   —  April 01, 2016, at 9:48 PM

"George?" he'd say."Washington!" Sarah would say, followed years later by Lilly, Olivia and lastly, Willa."Grover?" "Cleveland!" his daughters would reply for the twenty-second president of the United States.

Filmmaker Ken Burns on national parks and presidents

When Ken Burns' daughters were little, they played a game of memorizing the names of the presidents at bedtime.

"George?" he'd say.

"Washington!" Sarah would say, followed years later by Lilly, Olivia and lastly, Willa.


"Cleveland!" his daughters would reply for the twenty-second president of the United States.

Decades later, Burns' oldest daughter, Sarah, is thirty-three and a mother herself. At last, Burns' first children'south book, "Grover Cleveland, again!" is coming out in July.

Since we know Burns loves both the U. S. presidents and national parks, CNN asked him to assistance us commemorate the National Park Service turning one hundred this year.

Burns picked the presidents who did the most to create and defend the nature and history cared for by the National Park Service.

Yosemite'south presidential protector

For the very idea that some or portion of our natural resources should be set aside for present and future generations, Burns thanks President Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865).

In the center of the Civil War, with casualties mounting, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation to set aside portion of what's presently Yosemite National Park, even though Lincoln had never seen it.

"The land was set aside not for kings or noblemen but for everybody else," said Burns.

"Americans like their manifest destiny," said Burns, referring to the nineteenth cent trust that justified the United States' expansion across the continent. The congressional bill signed into law by Lincoln says, " 'but rescue a few places for everybody,' " Burns said.

CNN'south National Park Service centennial coverage

Creator of the world'south first national park

Before any member of Congress proposed creating the nation'south first official national park at Yellowstone, the map had been to set aside the land and give it to a state to protect, as had been done with Yosemite.

There was just one problem: Yellowstone was in three territories -- Wyoming, ID and Montana -- and none of them were states yet.

That'south why President Ulysses S. Grant (one thousand eight hundred sixty-nine -1877) signed legislation that "created the world'south first national park," said Burns.

Grand Canyon'south ardent advocate

President Theodore Roosevelt, who was known as the "conservation president," signed the one thousand nine hundred six Antiquities Act into law.

The act establishes that archeological sites on public lands are necessary public resources and authorizes the President to designate landmarks, structures and objects of historic or scientific interest as national monuments.

Roosevelt (1901-1909) used his authority to defend about two hundred thirty million acres of public land, including five national parks, through Congress, and eight national monuments, below the Antiquities Act.

Congress fought him on turning the Grand Canyon into a national park, so he named it a national monument below the Antiquities Act. (It became a national park in 1919.)

America'south first national parks

"Roosevelt was given one of greatest legislative gifts ever -- the Antiquities Act, which permitted him to set aside tiny parcels of public land for their scientific or historic value, " said Burns. "Being a naturalist, he was saving these places for all people for all time."

Launching the National Park Service

President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) is better known for helping create the Federal Reserve, signing the nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote (reversing his position), attempting to hold the United States out of World War I and trying to create a United Nations-like League of Nations.

But he also made a contribution to preservation.

On August twenty-five, one thousand nine hundred sixteen, Wilson signed the Biological Act, the result of a decadeslong effort that created the National Park Service.

At the time of his signing the legislation, the new bureau took over the protection of the existing fourteen national parks, twenty-one monuments, two reservations and those yet to be established.

Expanding protections

In some ways, our modern national park service is based on Franklin D. Roosevelt, Burns said.

"What Roosevelt began to realize is that it'south not just about protecting natural wonders or magnificent falls of Yosemite or the Grand Canyon or the variety of the Everglades," he said. "It'south also about social history."

Below Roosevelt (1933-1945), the park service took over the responsibility of the War Department'south parks and monuments, the U. S. Forest Service'south national monuments (and most monuments going forward) and the national capital parks.

Roosevelt also created the Civilian Conservation Corps, which during the heart of the Depression provided work developing national parks, forests, historic sites and other natural sites.

"As freedom evolves, so does the idea of the park service," said Burns.

Increasing access for the center class

With the development of the national hwy system below President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961), National Park Service sites were overwhelmed by visitors.

In one thousand nine hundred fifty-sixth, National Park Service Director Conrad L. Wirth launched the "Mission sixty-six" program to upgrade facilities and management by the park service's fiftieth anniversary in one thousand nine hundred sixty-sixth. (By one thousand nine hundred sixty-six, Lyndon Johnson was President.)

That'south why many park service sites have visitor centers, hundreds of employee residences and employee training centers.

'We'd grown up'

When Ken Burns starts talking about the national parks, he finds much to like about the presidents and the park sites they protected.

There are the bison that still exist because Yellowstone'south protections saved them, said Burns, and the Everglades, which is one of the most diverse environments anywhere.

"It'south the only space where alligators and crocodiles both exist, and there'south such a variety of plant and bird life," he said.

Burns also appreciates the National Park Service sites that remind us of our challenging and painful past.

Manzanar National Historic Site, where many Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II, protected in one thousand nine hundred ninety-second below President George H. W. Bush is one of those sites.

So is the Tiny Rock Central High School Historic Site, which was protected in one thousand nine hundred ninety-eighth below President Bill Clinton, and is still a working high school.

"I know of number country that's copied (that decision) to the extent we have, acknowledging all aspects of our complicated space in history," Burns said.

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