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Mammoth Cave National Park Follows Ken Burns' Documentary With Its Own Film


Film crews spent a year documenting life above, and below, ground at Mammoth Cave National Park for an hour-long documentary. NPS photo.

Hoping to leverage the buzz over Ken Burns' 12-hour documentary on national parks, a public television station in Kentucky is preparing to release its own documentary, one focused entirely on Mammoth Cave National Park.

Mammoth Cave: A Way to Wonder is an hour-long, high-definition program that premiers on WKYU-PBS, Channel 24 in Kentucky on October 4, a week after The National Parks: America's Best Idea, gains national exposure on public television stations.

“The staff at WKYU-PBS presented the park with a rare opportunity and we jumped at it,” says Superintendent Patrick Reed. “The program reveals the story of the cave, and reminds us of why this place was set aside as a national park. We are very grateful to the Friends of Mammoth Cave National Park, Bluegrass Cellular, and the Kentucky Department of Tourism, all of whom provided funding for the project.”

The idea arose from conversations between the station’s Emmy Award winning-producer Cheryl Beckley and the park’s information officer, Vickie Carson, back in August 2008.

“Several things came together that led us to doing this documentary,” said Ms. Beckley, “like the convergence of the Ken Burns series on the National Park Service, the new 6-mile lighting system in Mammoth Cave, the 20th anniversary of WKYU-PBS, and the advent of HD technology. It was the right time for a project like this to happen.”

Adds Ms. Carson: “There is always a need to find a better way to explain the cave and share its beauty. Even though the cave is the major feature of the park, it’s hidden and dark and mysterious. The cave is a delicate, foreign environment – connected to the surface world, but very different from it. Our task is to both protect and explain it.”

Ms. Beckley developed and directed the program, which contains four segments: history and prehistory; science and research; the park’s power to inspire, and; compelling human stories of the cave and parkland. Each segment features interviews that together convey a holistic picture of the park.

On screen, the park is revealed through the discerning eye of Emmy Award-winner David Brinkley, WKYU-PBS' director of photography for the project.

Mammoth Cave: A Way to Wonder is our first major undertaking in high-definition, and it has pushed us to the limit in terms of our methods and our physical and mental state of being,” said Mr. Brinkley. “We rappelled into the cave on ropes, lugged heavy equipment for miles underground, tromped through the deep woods, and suffered through heat, cold, rain and ticks.”

During the course of a year crews returned again and again to the cave to film eyeless fish, delicate gypsum crystals, cave tours, kayakers, sunsets, spring wildflowers, fall color, endangered bats, and waterfalls both above and below ground – in all more than 60 hours of footage and interviews.

“Every day we shot was better than what we imagined it would be," said Ms. Beckley. "The people we interviewed related their unique connections to Mammoth Cave and brought it to life.”

Mammoth Cave: A Way to Wonder will air on WKYU-PBS Channel 24 on October 4 at 8:00 p.m., and then again at 9:00 p.m.

“The National Park Service byline, ‘Experience Your America,’ encourages people to get into parks and personally discover the American story,” noted Superintendent Reed. “Mammoth Cave: A Way to Wonder takes the cave to the public. Whether it’s a favorite passage along the Historic Tour, or a remote cave stream only accessible by rope, Mammoth Cave: A Way to Wonder reveals Mammoth Cave’s untold stories via high definition footage and personal stories. It is an irresistible invitation to an unforgettable place.”

Portions of the film will be used in the park's visitor center, while the Friends of Mammoth Cave will be selling DVDs of the entire production.


I hope that maybe other PBS affiliates pick this film up for use in other markets. I would love to see it!

On a similar note (but not with the intent of digressing this post of course), there was also a high-definition film shot in 2006 of the Gateway Arch that explores its purpose and meaning. See website at
This film is incredibly excellent and really well done. The only thing is, JNEM has not done anything with it. I believe the producers sought to provide it as a gift to the park.

I agree with this....wouldn't that awesome.

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