May 25, 2018
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Ken Burns promotes park series at Acadia

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — Ken Burns is the rock star of public television.

Almost everywhere the documentary filmmaker went on Wednesday, people stopped to shake his hand and have their picture taken with him.

A couple from Lemont, Ill., turned away from the scenic vista at Thunder Hole to pose with Burns. As Ross Finnelly reached out to shake his hand, the filmmaker, best known for his epic retelling of the Civil War and the history of baseball, joked about the Illinois man’s T-shirt, which sported a Chicago Cubs logo.

“Thanks for your work,” Ross Finnelly said as his wife, Candice Finnelly, watched.

The couple live in a suburb southwest of Chicago.

“This is our first time here,” she said of their visit to the park, “and it’s absolutely beautiful.”

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Burns and writer-producer Dayton Duncan got a quick tour of Acadia on Wednesday afternoon. They were on Mount Desert Island to promote their documentary on the national park system. The 12-hour, six-episode series, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” will be shown starting Sept. 27 on public television, including the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

The series tells the story of the national park system, which began in 1872 with the formation of Yellowstone National Park. The system now includes 58 parks and 333 national monuments and historic sites.

Filmed over six years, the program includes more than 50 interviews as well as footage from the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone and, of course, Acadia.

Wednesday was the first time Burns had been in Maine’s only national park since 1974, when he visited a high school friend who had moved to Maine two years earlier and lived in Bar Harbor. Duncan, who conceived the idea for the documentary in 1999, scouted the locations and oversaw the filming in Maine in 2004 and 2005.

Recently, Duncan and Burns were made honorary park rangers, an honor usually reserved for “dead presidents,” according to Burns. Two of their fellow rangers, Sheridan Steele, park superintendent, and Dylan McDonald accompanied them on the tour, which included stops at the Sieur de Mont Spring Nature Center, Wildwood Stables and the Jordan Pond House as well as Thunder Hole.

Steele took Burns up a trail past the nature center to meet members of the Acadia Youth Conservation Corps. Anna Coplon of Somesville politely refused Burns’ offer to assist her in pushing a wheelbarrow full of dirt up a slight incline where the 15-year-old and others worked to repair a trail damaged by water erosion.

The Mount Desert Island High School student said she did not know who Burns was until she saw an excerpt from his latest film during orientation on June 29, her first day on the job.

Burns first visited a national park in 1969 when he was 6-years old. His mother was dying of cancer and his father took him to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. It was the only trip the two ever took together, Burns said Wednesday.

“We learned when we did ‘Baseball’ that people told stories starting with, ‘My mom or my dad’” Burns said. “That’s how they accessed their stories. It was the same way with this series. At the base of [people’s feeling about the parks] are really powerful memories of families, and these memories are as powerful as any they have had.”

That emotional connection to the land through family along with the history of the park system is what Burns wants to convey in his film, he said.

He has spent the past year traveling throughout the country promoting it on visits to parks similar to his stop on Mount Desert Island.

Burns said Wednesday that he has spent 110 days away from his home in Walpole, N.H., in the past year.

Burns was scheduled to end the day at the Criterion Theatre and Arts Center in Bar Harbor, where an excerpt from his film was to be shown and he would answer questions from the audience. He is scheduled to attend a similar event tonight in Portland.

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