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Ken Burns Details History of Alaska Denali Park

Editor’s Note: The following story appearing in USA Today offers a personal account by award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan on the history, and the inherent beauty, of Alaska’s Denali National Park. To view the full story, photos and a video click here.

Last year, as the National Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday, Americans were encouraged to “Find Your Park.”

Park visitors did just that 331 million times, up 8% from the previous year and setting a new record. Those visitors, we’re sure, went home with millions of imperishable memories of connecting with our country’s most magnificent landscapes, its wildlife and its history. They also contributed an estimated $32 billion to the nation’s economy (a $10 return on every dollar Congress appropriated for parks) and supported 295,000 jobs. As birthday parties go, that’s quite a success.

This year, another centennial is underway. Up in Alaska, Denali National Park and Preserve turns 100 years old. If it’s stunning scenery and fascinating wildlife you’re looking for, Denali’s got more of both than any other park you’re likely to visit.

At its heart, rising 20,310 spectacular feet above sea level, is the highest mountain in North America, which the local Athabaskan Indians reverently call Denali, “The High One.” Words aren’t adequate to describe Denali’s dramatic immensity, looming over the Alaska Range. An early visitor likened the experience of seeing it for the first time to looking into the yawning abyss of the Grand Canyon. “At such times,” he said, “man feels his atomic insignificance in this universe.”

One of our own favorite memories in making our PBS documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, was an August afternoon spent near Wonder Lake in the center of the park. Denali was enshrouded in clouds (as it often is) and we were anxious about whether we would ever capture the mountain’s majesty on film. We made a key decision by recognizing our own atomic insignificance in Denali’s conception of time. We aimed our camera where we believed the mountain was behind the clouds, set it to shoot one frame every four seconds to create a time lapse … and simply waited.

To view the full story, photos and a video click here.

 

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