Throughout a good chunk of 2005 and the first half of this year the National Park Service was embroiled in a tug-of-war over its Management Policies, the well-thumbed handbook park superintendents are supposed to refer to when they are not quite sure off the top of their heads which management shot to call.
There was the motorized recreation industry on one side lobbying for more access to the park system and less concern over impacts to the system's resources, and on the other was everyone else. OK, not everyone else, but it sure seemed like it. Anyway, one of the nit-picky issues, or so some thought, was protection of natural soundscapes in the parks. You know, the gurgle of streams, the chirping of crickets, the hooting of owls, those kinds of things.
Heck, U.S. Representative Stevan Pearce, who chairs the House's parks subcommittee, last summer thought the Park Service worried too much about noise pollution. Well, fortunately the good gentleman from New Mexico didn't get his way.
But here's a bulletin (at least to me): The Park Service is just beginning to study noise in the parks!
You might have thought that an agency like the Park Service, which for more than a few years has worried about natural soundscapes, would have been studying man-made noise in the park system for quite a while.
But apparently it hasn't been. A story this week in the Sacramento Bee says "the National Park Service's Natural Sounds Program has begun to document how the intrusion of man-made noise, from planes to Jet Skis to pagers, is affecting life within some of our most treasured landmarks."
Frank Turina, a natural resources planner for the Park Service, provided this head-turning statement to the Bee's Cynthia Hubert: "Yes, there are still places in the parks that are very quiet. But every day they are fewer and farther between.
"People want their parks to be places where they can truly get away. They're starting to realize that their parks no longer sound like they should."
Heck, I could have told Cynthia that. In fact, a survey prepared for the Outdoor Industry Association just about a year ago nailed that one on the head: folks want their parks on the quiet side.
Anyway, the story is pretty long (you can read the whole thing here after registering for free), and covers much more than the noise in national parks. But there are a couple gems, such as this one from Mia Monroe, who manages Muir Woods National Monument:
"Most digital cameras are not quiet. Strollers can be quite noisy. Big vehicles have 'backup beepers,' and you hear lots of planes overhead. Back when I started here, cars didn't make those funny little beeps when the doors lock. It all adds up."
It does indeed. What will be interesting to see is what the Park Service does once it's done documenting all the man-made noise in the parks. Hopefully, it won't ask Rep. Pearce for suggestions.