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Preserve US national parks

Americans must make a renewed commitment to their 'best idea.'

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More than a century ago, naturalist John Muir urged urban dwellers in bustling Eastern cities to look up from their labors and head west to a national park for a fresh perspective.

"Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees," wrote Muir in 1901. "The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."

Beginning this Sunday America's premier documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, issues that same clarion call. This time it's in high-definition video in a six-part, 12-hour series on PBS called "The National Parks: America's Best Idea."

But behind Mr. Burns's armchair tour of the fascinating history and scenic splendor of the parks is the hope that the series will inspire Americans to visit these treasures and experience their transformative powers firsthand. Those visits should also inspire Americans to take the urgent steps needed to preserve their parks.

In this year of recession and lower gas prices, millions have already headed to the 391 US national parks and monuments. In fact, this may turn out to be a record year for visits.

The parks have always represented a bargain getaway for the ordinary American. Free weekends at the parks have sweetened the deal. In August, President Obama and his family visited Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, providing even more visibility for two of the world's special places.

This Saturday, National Public Lands Day, represents the other side of the equation: what Americans owe these parks. Thousands of volunteers will head to these treasures (on yet another free-admission day) to pick up trash, remove invasive plants, restore trails, fix bridges, and plant trees.

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