On the Road with Doug McConnell
For more than 15 years as the host of KRON's Bay Area Backroads, Doug McConnell gave viewers an opportunity to learn more about the unique places and out-of-the-way adventures that make our area so special. Now he is back with OpenRoad, a new weekly public television series focusing on the entire West. Doug spoke to KQED about his years of traveling as well as plans for OpenRoad.
How far does your family go back in the West? Did you travel with your family growing up?
My mother's side came to California in 1870s—to the Central Valley. Her father was born in Brentwood in 1883.
I was born in Southern California, and lived in Santa Monica until I was eight, when we moved to Fresno. When I was 13, my dad bought a Ford dealership in Gridley, which, it turns out, is just six miles north of Live Oak, the Central Valley community my great grandfather founded in 1874. So we really came full circle.
My love affair with the West stems from my earliest memories. I was only about two years old, and I remember being in the back seat of a car and seeing the Black Hills of South Dakota at night. I was hooked. We frequently traveled to Montana, where my dad grew up. And over the years we drove through all the lower 48 Western states.
For viewers familiar with Bay Area Backroads, how will OpenRoad be similar or different?
OpenRoad will continue to cover the things I've always had a passion for—nature, history and exploration. The hallmark of both shows is that I'm not the star. Both are about going out and finding the great characters, the people with wonderful stories to tell and experiences to share.
OpenRoad is a real chance to spread our wings on public television though--with more time to tell our stories and try new things. I also want to not only highlight my favorite journeys, but also encourage folks to help preserve and protect these places. Go out and enjoy the West, but also take care of it. How has the West changed since you started your television travels? It's hard for me to believe, but OpenRoad will premiere on KQED on the 40th anniversary of my first job in television! And certainly, while some things have remained intact and marvelous, there have been many immense changes in that time.
One of the most lasting changes is how much noisier the world is. Someone I hope to profile in a "Legend of the West" segment on OpenRoad is Dr. Bernie Krause, who studies nature through sound. And he says, for example, that the amount of natural field sound (with no plane, or train or car noises) he could record in one hour 40 years ago now takes 20 hours.
How do you find these "Legends of the West"? There are extraordinary, passionate people all over the place. The strength of OpenRoad is finding them and getting out of the way of them telling their stories.
Our ethic is to be aware of where you are. Look and listen carefully and magical things will emerge--whether in your own back yard or far from home--and enrich your life.
In times like this, when world is struggling, and the media is full of stories of corruption, greed and dysfunction, I'm inspired by folks doing great things in unheralded ways.
What will people find on the OpenRoad website?
The website (www.openroad.tv) will be a real resource for folks to learn more about specific areas we visit, but also to learn how they can get involved in conservation and preservation.
At this point, only about ten percent of the content we have available has been put up on the site. I'd like to post everything we've got as soon as possible—all the video and all the resources—and then create a community interested in exploring and caring for this region, and have a conversation.
And we are definitely looking for suggestions about places we should visit on future episodes.
Tell me about being named both an Honorary California State Park and National Park Ranger. I hear you have real ranger hats.
Yes. I have two hats! I've been lucky to receive honors over the years, but these have meant the most personally. I am a big parks fan, and have tried to do a lot to help them—volunteering my time and resources. It was a real thrill to receive them.
Can you pick a favorite park? Or is it like picking a favorite child?
Well, I've lived in many Western states, and have deep connections with a lot of places. But if pushed on this, I'd have to say Yosemite. It's very close to my heart. When I was eight we moved to Fresno, and the Sierra Nevada was right there. We'd hook our little trailer up to the car and drive to Yosemite. Back then you could drive right into the valley and get the same campsite weekend after weekend. I feel like I grew up in the park. I really fell in love with nature and the outdoors there.
And of course the Bay Area is such a special region. This is the birthplace of the modern environmental movement, and we have the greatest amount of protected open space of any urban region. Every day I wonder around and pinch myself. It is a great gift to live here.
- www.OpenRoad.TV website
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