“This is God’s country,” Burns says out loud to nobody in particular as we drive home through Glacier National Park one evening. It’s not a religious statement but rather a shock-and-awe observation. The landscapes here are indeed majestic. But change is on the horizon, as the park once boasted some 150 glaciers but now manages to freeze only 25. Though The National Parks never approaches present day in its narrative, it’s impossible to ignore the film’s timing in this age of heightened awareness of environmental concerns and global warming.
All of Burns’s films tap into a sense of American pride, beginning with his own and then extending far and wide into that of his television audience. As the U.S. national parks belong to all Americans collectively, it would be remiss not to think that Burns is banking on this collective ownership to blow wind on the preservation embers. With viewership for each of his films routinely clocking in at 40 million or more (not to mention the number of people who catch it later via reruns or DVD), he’s making no small dent in the American consciousness.
“The mountains will be here,” Burns says of Glacier National Park, just one of the film’s many focal points. “They are spectacular. The lakes will be here. They are spectacular. But the glaciers are disappearing. God forbid we can’t call this Glacier National Park anymore but Asterisk National Park because there aren’t any.”