Ken Burns' parks series is as good as the idea it documents

The National Parks: America's Best Idea is the real deal, a stupendous achievement.

The six-night, 12-hour documentary airs at 8 p.m. Sunday through next Friday on Kentucky Educational Television and other PBS stations.

It's another Ken Burns epic, and it's my choice for the most beautiful program ever put on American television. The land is the star, and Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Everglades and other parks register with breathtaking force.

Burns and writer Dayton Duncan explain how John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, Stephen Mather and many others fought to preserve the lands and the wildlife. Burns and Duncan tell these personal stories dramatically, eliciting tears and gratitude.

The National Parks is more compact than some other Burns epics (Baseball, Jazz). And it is less remote than other Burns histories. Many viewers have lived and shared this story. The new documentary is a down-to-earth history, employing home movies, family photographs and personal reminiscences.

When Burns' The Civil War debuted in 1990, it was a national sensation. In a new, splintered media environment, The National Parks will have a hard time duplicating that achievement.

Yet the new documentary lifts spirits and teaches patriotism by reminding people of what is timeless and transcendent. A program that makes Americans stand a little taller? That's what we need right now.