Ken Burns on Pinnacles National Park: 'Hallelujah'

The view east from High Peaks in Pinnacles National Park. (Miguel Vieira/Flickr)
The view east from High Peaks in Pinnacles National Park. (Miguel Vieira/Flickr)

Ken Burns called the national parks system "America's Best Idea." So it probably won't come as a surprise that the celebrated documentary filmmaker is thrilled that the country has a new national park: Pinnacles National Park, near Hollister.

"This is just really a moment of just, hallelujah, celebration," Burns told KQED's Molly Samuel. "I can think of no greater accomplishment for a citizen than having helped the creation of the setting aside of land for everyone for all times."

Burns played a role in the park's creation by co-authoring a letter supporting the Pinnacles National Park Act, which was sponsored by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel. Farr quoted the letter in congressional debate over the act. In January, President Obama signed the act and made Pinnacles the country's 59th national park. Previously a national monument, Pinnacles is the home to spires of rock that are remnants of an ancient volcano. Burns cited the park's volcanic history in his letter of support.

A Pinnacles National Park would preserve a unique portion of our land: not only a critical record of geological time (what John Muir would have called a "grand geological library") that helps Americans look back millions of years to understand the vast tectonic forces that shaped - and still shape - our continent but also a rare habitat for condors, a wide array of flowers, and 400 species of bees. It would preserve a place that over the centuries, Native Americans, early Spanish settlers, homesteaders from the East, and Basque sheepherders have considered home, offering an important series of perspectives on the larger sweep of American history.

Ken Burns (Courtesy of Rahoul Ghose/PBS)
Ken Burns (Courtesy of Rahoul Ghose/PBS)

"It represents what nature often does, all the great conflicts and tensions are there, of volcanic activity and fault lines, and the sort of geology of it is just spectacular to see on display," Burns told Samuel. "It now takes its place with Yosemite, the greatest collection of geothermal features on Earth, [and] the grandest canyon on earth, the Grand Canyon."

He added that Pinnacles and all national parks represent what Americans can do when they work together


"We spend an awful lot of time in our national life pointing our how we're different from each other," Burns said. "Somebody's blue state or red state, left or right, gay or straight, young or old, black or white, male or female. And we forget to select what we share in common, which is most things.

"The national parks fit into this," he added. "And the occasion of a new national park helps us invigorate this idea that we are also all in this together, (and) as much as we celebrate our individualism and our free will and our separation form the state, that the state has created many wonderful things. Among them, at the top of the list, I would suggest, are the national parks."

You can hear Samuel's entire interview with Burns in the audio below.