An aviation company that offers helicopter tours of central Oregon wants to add Crater Lake National Park to its flight plans, but opposition to the proposal is mounting.
The proposal by Leading Edge Aviation to offer tours that basically would have helicopters fly 1,500 feet above the park's Rim Road has been criticized by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, who pressed Jon Jarvis, the nominee for National Park Service director, to oppose the company's request. "Suffice it to say, Oregonians are just up in arms about the prospect," the Oregon Democrat told Mr. Jarvis during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
Mr. Jarvis was noncommittal in his response, as is the nature of nominees at their confirmation hearings these days.
"I can't predict the final outcome on this, but I do believe it would be our responsibility to ensure that the visitor experience and ultimate quiet that you find at Crater Lake is preserved," said Mr. Jarvis.
Also opposed to the overflights, which reportedly could number as many as 300 per year, is the National Parks Conservation Association, which sees them as a noisy intrusion upon Crater Lake.
“At a minimum, Crater Lake could have an increase in helicopter motor noise in the park, and there are a good number of people who would have a problem with that," said the NPCA's Sean Smith, who added there are safety concerns as well.
Back in September 1995 a helicopter crashed into Crater Lake and sank to the bottom, where it remains today. Two men were killed in the crash, and their remains were never recovered.
While Crater Lake has no officially designated wilderness that possibly could be impaired by helicopter overflights, Mr. Smith said that, “For all intents and purposes it (the park) almost is a de facto wilderness, except for the road that goes through the center. A good portion of the park is not accessible by roads."
Dimming the prospects for a somewhat immediate decision on the aviation company's request is the fact that the Federal Aviation Administration has a backlog of more than 80 National Park System units where air-tour management plans need to be adopted before it can consider this request. Adding an air of confusion to the matter is the dispute between the FAA and the National Park Service over which agency has jurisdiction when it comes to park overflights.
On Tuesday there was a meeting between FAA and NPS representatives in Arizona to discuss air tours over Grand Canyon National Park. Exactly how many air tours over the Grand Canyon there are every year is a matter of dispute, as the FAA logged 56,000 last year while the Park Service recorded about 43,000, according to a story in the Arizona Daily Sun.