By Jonathon Sharp

This year marks the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, and the Science Museum of Minnesota is celebrating the occasion all summer with an Omnitheater film that takes viewers mountain biking in Utah, hiking in Yellowstone and ice climbing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Titled National Parks Adventure, the film immerses viewers in the beauty and power of America’s most beloved and iconic landscapes. The work, from prominent IMAX filmmaking studio MacGillivray Freeman Films, follows climbing legend Conrad Anker as he, his son and a family friend road trip from park to park, taking in the scenery on ropes, in kayaks and on foot. Their adventure is narrated by Robert Redford.

“Our goal was to create a film in the giant screen format that celebrates the centennial of the National Park Service,” said Anker, when he was at the museum for a meet-and-greet on Wednesday. “So, we wanted to get out and enjoy the parks, as much as preserve the parks.”

The trio’s adventure crisscrosses the nation, and tells the history of the parks service along the way. The story of naturalist John Muir, known for his poetic writings on the beauty of the Yosemite Valley, is featured prominently, as the long-bearded poet took President Theodore Roosevelt on perhaps the most important camping trip in conservationist history. The three-day adventure was a seed that grew into what’s been called “the best idea” America ever had.

The film also touches on the threats that faced America’s treasured landscapes, such as the redwood groves of California, before the concept of national parks came to prominence. It makes one wonder what America would look like today if no one ever bothered to speak up for the trees, mountains, glaciers, rivers, and lakes.

While the film dips into history, it’s true focus on what the parks are – playgrounds for millions, places whether people can go to connect with nature, seek adventure and just get away from the business of modern life.

“It’s rejuvenation,” Anker said. “It’s a chance to relax…because we’re so busy, we’re so over-subscribed in this day and age. To go out there and enjoy a little bit of solitude is really good.”

For Anker, getting out means climbing.

In the film, he takes his crew to Devils Tower in Wyoming and to ice caves on the shores of Lake Superior. The Omnitheater screen highlights the dizzying heights Anker reaches with apparent ease. No doubt some viewers will be inspired.

“I hope there’s a few of them,” Anker said. “It’s a much better sport for humans to do than play football, because, I mean, football you’re just hitting…injuring your head. Climbing is about teamwork and communication. It’s a great way for humans to interact with each other.”

National Parks Adventure breezes by in just 40 minutes. The educational film gushes with natural beauty, traveling from Alaska to Hawaii, Florida to Michigan. Unabashedly promotional, the movie tries it’s hardest to get people out to the parks.

Just this weekend, President Barack Obama is visiting Anker’s favorite park: Yosemite. But even as the president acknowledges the centennial of the National Park Service, challenges face the agency. Anker, a National Parks Ambassador, says the parks service is facing severe funding problems.

“The parks service has a backlog of billions of dollars of infrastructure projects,” he said. “We love them, but they have a real challenge.”

National Parks Adventure is playing at the Science Museum of Minnesota through October.

Jonathon Sharp

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