Outdoors, On Screen


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I’ve always considered senior editor Samuel Hughes to be among the most scrupulous of journalists, but he was clearly biased in his reporting of this issue’s cover story, “A Hymn to the Parks,” on Dayton Duncan C’71 and his latest collaboration with the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns—a six-part PBS series and companion book on the history of America’s National Parks.

Sam admitted as much in an email he sent after handing in the story, just before lighting out with his family to a location lacking electricity, a reliable cellphone signal, or WiFi capability (or so he claims).

“I was kind of predisposed to like Dayton Duncan’s project from the get-go,” he confessed. “I haven’t been to anywhere near as many national parks as he has, but I’ve had some pretty great experiences in a number of parks myself—probably a dozen altogether, from Acadia to Yosemite and Glacier to Mesa Verde, Arches, and Dinosaur National Monument, even Haleakala and Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge—and I hope to get to some more over the next few years.”

If that wasn’t enough to cloud his objectivity, he added that his now 18-year-old son, Tristan, “spent three amazing, mind-expanding summers working for the Student Conservation Association in Yosemite, Glacier, and the White Mountains, and this summer, after watching the preview DVD of The National Parks that Dayton’s people sent me, he added the Badlands and Yellowstone to his list, as well as return trips to Glacier and Yosemite.

“I knew very little about the history of the parks before I started researching this piece, and it goes without saying that I learned a lot about that. I hope to be in Acadia in a couple of days, and I’ll be thinking of George Dorr and Charles Eliot and John D. Rockefeller Jr., not to mention Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir, as we scramble up Cadillac Mountain.”

Then, the final nail in the coffin: “Oh— and for what it’s worth, that Dayton Duncan is a seriously good guy.”

With those caveats in mind, turn to page 34.

(Actually, even for someone—me, for instance—who leans more toward what Duncan describes, not unkindly, as “the windshield experience” of nature as opposed to actual hiking, camping, mountain-climbing, etc., the story of the parks is pretty fascinating, and a natural for the team that has memorably tackled such iconic American subjects as jazz, baseball, the Lewis & Clark Expedition, and the Civil War.)

Those who prefer to do their adventuring in a more urban setting—Philadelphia, say—will find plenty to explore during Arts & the City Year, an ambitious effort to highlight arts-and-culture here on campus and throughout the city involving Penn, the mayor’s office, and a number of local arts organizations. “In the Spotlight,” by freelancer Molly Petrilla C’06, details some of the offerings included in the program of events, and also highlights associated changes to this year’s Homecoming that could make gallery-hopping as much a signature feature of the weekend as the traditional gridiron exploits. Arts & the City Year is also the focus of this issue’s “From College Hall” column, in which President Gutmann emphasizes the critical importance of the arts to institutions and individuals, even—make that especially—in challenging economic times.

Finally, for those who have kids, especially girls (or who just like kids’ TV), “Disney’s Channeler,” by freelancer Robert Strauss, profiles Richard Ross C’83, the executive behind such powerhouse children’s entertainment phenomena as High School Musical, Hannah Montana, and the Jonas Brothers. (For my full disclosure on this subject, see the box on page 55.)

—John Prendergast C’80


©2009 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 7/28/09