Over the course of more than 150 years, a once-radical idea has evolved into a cohesive national parks system, with a sometimes conflicting two part-mission: to make the parks accessible to all and to preserve them for future generations.
Check out the timeline charting the evolution of the park system, and follow the history of the parks as shown in each episode of The National Parks: America's Best Idea.
The astonishing beauty of Yosemite Valley and the geyser wonderland of Yellowstone give birth to the radical idea of creating national parks for the enjoyment of everyone; John Muir becomes their eloquent defender.
A young president, Theodore Roosevelt, becomes one of the national parks' greatest champions; in Yellowstone, a magnificent species is rescued from extinction; and in Yosemite, John Muir fights the battle of his life to save a beautiful valley.
In John Muir's absence, a new leader steps forward on behalf of America's remaining pristine places; a new federal agency is created to protect the parks; and in Arizona, a fight breaks out over the fate of the grandest canyon on earth.
As America embraces the automobile, a Nebraska housewife searches for peace and inspiration in park after park, while a honeymoon couple seeks fame and adventure in the Grand Canyon; and the future of the Great Smoky Mountains becomes caught in a race with the lumbermen's saws.
In the midst of an economic catastrophe and then a world war, the national parks provide a source of much-needed jobs and then much-needed peace; the park idea changes to include new places and new ways of thinking; and in Wyoming, battle lines are drawn along the front of the Teton Range.
A stubborn iconoclast fights a lonely battle on behalf of a species nearly everyone hates; America's "Last Frontier" becomes a testing ground for the future of the park idea; and in unprecedented numbers, American families create unforgettable memories, passing on a love of the parks to the next generation.
Check out the lesson plans and other materials for teachers and educators.