THE BLOG
08/07/2012 06:41 pm ET Updated Oct 07, 2012

National Parks: Are We Giving Up on Peace and Quiet to Allow More Noise?

After a 14-hour drive and, hopefully, a good night's rest, you get the family up early and together you hike the trail or stand at an overlook along the rim. There it is before you; one of the most magnificent sights on the face of the earth, a place that Theodore Roosevelt said could not be improved upon, the Grand Canyon. As you stop, basking in its glory, you are grateful to share the moment with your family. Then the perfection is shattered. The "whomp, whomp, whomp" of helicopters hovering above you shatters the quiet. In five minutes you are transported back to hustle and bustle of your busy life and your 12-year-old is now more interested in the helicopter than the vast canyon.

A similar story could be told about Yellowstone National Park, where the sounds of bursting geysers, bubbling mud pots, and chattering trumpeter swans get drowned out by the roar of snowmobiles in the wintertime.

National parks have a "wow factor" that captivates us -- incredible views, natural wonders and amazing stories. During these trips, visitors look for experiences where you can take a moment to hear and see new things. If you visit a national park when you are a child, years later when you take your child or your grandchild you expect a similar experience. That is the promise made when a National Park site is designated. Most people come away from their visits inspired by their experience and ready to add another park to their bucket list.

Recently, the National Parks Service (NPS) announced a new winter plan for Yellowstone, which could double the amount of snowmobiles entering the park each day. This is concerning because the technology once promised to become cleaner and quieter is actually getting worse. The snowmobile manufacturers promised to improve these vehicles, but they are noisier and more polluting than the models built seven years ago. Sadly, the National Park Service's latest proposal to increase snowmobile use is taking us backwards.

Additionally, Congress just weeks ago subverted a nearly final plan to reduce helicopter and other air tour noise heard by visitors enjoying the overlooks and hiking trails in the Grand Canyon. By sneaking in an amendment to the recent transportation bill, Congress carelessly cast aside the time, money, and public involvement spent on developing a new air tour plan for the Grand Canyon. That plan was fair for all visitors -- it allowed air tours to continue while identifying areas where visitors on the ground could enjoy noise free areas. While these two actions individually directly impact these two National Parks, on a wider scale they contravene the NPS policies that promise visitors the opportunity to hear natural sounds -- a wolf howling, a rushing river, or bursting water from Old Faithful.

Are we going to allow more noise in our National Parks?

National Parks are special and unique places where families can share a sense of wonder and pride that we take care of these awe-inspiring places just as President Roosevelt expressed. Is our generation giving up on the protection we have provided to these places? By downgrading protections for our greatest National Parks in order to allow noisy vehicles to drown out nature, we are not protecting these wonderful experiences so many generations before us have enjoyed. NPCA believes every generation deserves the chance to hear the sounds of nature (not just machines) that people expect in our National Parks.