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The only good thing to come out of the two week-plus U.S. government shutdown last month was the attention it brought to the national parks, the importance of them to the local economies that depend on them, and the global inspiration that every country trying to conserve its natural resources derives from the creation of them, “an idea as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence and just as radical,” as Ken Burns put it in his 2009 TV documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.
But way before we Instagrammed the 2013 shutdown, there was a generation that embraced and grew up on them, way before other more addictive man-made theme parks stole the former national pastime. And a unique program called DOCUMERICA documented the national parks like we would now, in all its filtered nostalgic glory.
This was a program sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency to “photographically document subjects of environmental concern” in U.S., from about 1972 to 1977; it recruited 70 well-known photographers and ask them to go around the vast country and bring back photos of everyday life at the margins of these changes.
Some photographers interpreted their mission rather broadly and artistically, and Boyd Norton, a nature photographer, photographed the National Parks of Colorado and Utah, among other places. The U.S. National Archives put up these photographs on Flickr and we have selected the best of them, above.