When a new issue of National Geographic magazine arrived, a young Doug McConnell would pull out the insert map and begin tracing it. He’d outline the countries or states to learn their shape, with a plan to color in places once he’d visited them. “I wanted to go everywhere,” he says. “Basically, by the time I got out of here, I wanted to have colored in the whole damn planet.”
He’s gotten pretty close.
A renowned on-camera TV journalist, McConnell has been in Bay Area living rooms, exploring the near and far landscapes of Northern California, since 1993. He hosted the show Bay Area Backroads for 15 years on KRON, and then in 2009 he re-created the show as OpenRoad with Doug McConnell, Exploring the West for public television stations KQED and KTEH. That show is now in its seventh season.
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Through these programs and others, McConnell has brought attention to landscapes, environmental issues, and organizations and agencies devoted to caring for the natural world throughout the Bay Area. From newly protected lands and incredible trails to environmental education programs and climate change solutions, McConnell has covered it all.
“Doug is a Bay Area treasure. No one else knows the Bay Area’s conservation and parks community like he does,” writes Annie Burke, executive director of TOGETHER Bay Area, a regional coalition for resilient lands. “He has been in every park, told the story of every agency and land trust, and been privy to the stories of how our natural places are the way they are.”
McConnell is a consummate storyteller. An early sign of his future calling came after a school field trip to a cottage cheese factory near his hometown of Fresno. After they’d returned from the visit, the teacher asked the kids which of them would like to sum up the trip. He raised his hand and had a blast recounting the experience for his classmates. “Many years later, I thought, ‘Well, that’s really all I do for a living is go on field trips, come back, and tell stories,’” McConnell says.
But environmental stories of the 21st century are not all pleasant sojourns. Reporting on climate change, extinction, pollution, and inequity for decades can be hard on a person. “You look at all this stuff and think, intellectually, if I were a betting man, the odds are long,” he reflects. Despite the dire headlines, McConnell cites the past successes he’s witnessed, from lands saved to species recovery, as motivation. “My nature is not wanting to get depressed too long,” he says. “I just wake up and figure out . . . what can I do to be helpful?”