Area won’t regret national park, filmmaker Burns says

As Grand Junction debates whether to support national park status for Colorado National Monument, filmmaker Ken Burns weighed in with his enthusiastic endorsement of the idea. Above, Sara Urbanel, of Louisville, poses for a photo taken by Chris Urbanel, of Wisconsin, near the monument visitor center Tuesday.

Photos by DEAN HUMPHREY/The Daily Sentinel—“It’s the Declaration of Independence applied to the landscape,” filmmaker Ken Burns said of national parks. Above, cactus is in bloom at Colorado National Monument.

Ken Burns

When Ken Burns penned the foreword to “Monumental Majesty,” The Daily Sentinel’s coffee table book about Colorado National Monument, he called it “one of the most beautiful places on earth.”

Last week, Burns said he’d be just as happy to call it a national park.

The maker of award-winning documentaries such as “The Civil War” and public television specials like “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” said people who object to a national park designation always change their tune after the change is in place.

“I know the Western Slope really, really well,” the filmmaker said.

Two federal legislators are taking comments through the end of this month on proposed legislation to redesignate Colorado National Monument as a national park. The effort has stirred up passionate support and opposition.

Burns, who serves on the Telluride Film Festival board of directors, has made the trip to Colorado every Labor Day since 1990 to attend the festival.

On his way, he stops in at some of the area’s best known parks and monuments, including Arches, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, and Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

“If I didn’t (live) in New Hampshire, I’d live in Telluride,” Burns told The Daily Sentinel in 2012.

While promoting a new history website, ChronosScribe, which is being launched by Grand Junction High School graduate Jon Martinez, Burns took a moment to weigh in on the debate over whether Colorado National Monument should be designated a national park.

“I’m always for that,” Burns said. “I don’t know why it becomes controversial. Even those people who oppose (it) always end up coming over. It’s crazy.”

Burns pointed to the experience of Seward, Alaska, and nearby Kenai Fjords National Park.

Most people in the small town of Seward originally opposed the park, he said.

“It was a town that depended on oil booms and busts and they suddenly found history, heritage and travel,” Burns said. “A permanent pipeline — that’s what they called it — that was not subject to the vagaries of what was going on in the oil market, and more importantly, didn’t degrade, in any way, the environment.”

After an initial period of opposition, the town that so vocally opposed the park at first later asked Congress to expand its boundaries.

“The reason we did (“The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”) was not a travelogue, it wasn’t a nature tour, it wasn’t which lodge or inn to stay at, it was the history,” Burns said. “From the very beginning, every single park has had opposition. At the end, everybody goes, ‘Wow, what were we thinking?’

“This is manifest destiny 101,” Burns added. “The American impulse is to look at a river and think ‘Dam’, to look at a stand of trees and think ‘board feet’, to look at a canyon and wonder what mineral wealth there is.’ There’s a big, big continent out there and we’ve exploited it. We’ve done that. But we said, ‘Just this tiny, tiny, infinitesimally small area, we’re going to set this aside for everybody for all time.”

“It’s the Declaration of Independence applied to the landscape,” Burns said. “That’s what our national parks are.”


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