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What Do You Think About Sightseeing Tours Circling Mount Rainier National Park?


What do you think about sightseeing tours circling around Mount Rainier National Park? NPT file photo.

One of the increasingly thorny issues circling around the National Park System are sightseeing planes that circle national parks. Those tours have been debated at Grand Canyon, Crater Lake, and Grand Teton national parks, just to name three units of the system. Now you can add Mount Rainier National Park to the list.

Word came the other day that the Federal Aviation Administration, in cooperation with the National Park Service, has initiated development of an Air Tour Management Plan and associated Environmental Assessment for Mount Rainier pursuant to the National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000.

Five air tour operators currently provide commercial air tours over and within one-half mile of Mount Rainier. Most of these operators originate from the Puget Sound area, and one originates from Wenatchee, Washington. Since January of 2003, these five operators have had authority to conduct a maximum combined total of 114 air tours per year, though in recent years, operations have likely been below this level. While the air tour visitor experience varies depending on weather conditions and the desires of the air tour client, the primary attraction for air tour visitors is viewing the summit of Mount Rainier, according to park officials.

An Air Tour Management Plan is being developed for Mount Rainier to "provide measures to mitigate or prevent significant adverse impacts, if any, of commercial air tour operations ... including impacts on natural and cultural resources, visitor experiences, and tribal lands," a park release explained.

Back in October, the Park Service and FAA met for two days to discuss issues involving air tours. You can find the minutes from those meetings at this site. Materials presented at the meeting included information on: park resources; the acoustical environment at Mount Rainier; current and historical air tour operations; and representative air tour flight paths. In addition, Mount Rainier staff provided information regarding sensitive park resources, tribal concerns, and tourism patterns.

The FAA and NPS are now inviting the public, agencies, tribes, and other interested parties to provide comments, suggestions, and input regarding the Mount Rainier ATMP. Generally speaking, the agencies would like to know about any concerns or ideas the public has regarding commercial air tour operations at Mount Rainier and their management. Questions to consider when providing input include: Are there any significant issues the agencies need to consider during the planning process? How do you feel air tours will affect natural, cultural, and historic resources at MORA?

A Public Scoping Document that describes the project in greater detail is available at this site. You also can find hard copies in the park at the Longmire Museum, the Henry M Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise, the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center, and the Sunrise Visitor Center. Outside the park, copies can be found at the Eatonville Library, Puyallup Library, Enumclaw City Library, Buckley Library, Tacoma Public Library, and the Yakima Valley Regional Library. There's also a copy at the Environmental Center Resource Library in the Huxley College of Environmental Studies at Western Washington University.

And, of course, you can find the supporting documents and a place to comment on them at this site:

Comments are being taken through May 3.

Comments may also be submitted to Keith Lusk (Air Tour Management Plan Program Manager, Special Programs Staff, AWP-1SP, FAA) via mail (P.O. Box 92007, Los Angeles, California 90009-2007) or email (


As an regular visitor and advocate of this country's national parks, it is with dismay that another short term idea is presented for revenue and profit for the NPS.

From a personal perspective, my family and I enjoyed a trip to Mount Rainier in July 2009 - We were fortunate to stay at the lodge and hike the trails. It is the peace and QUIET we seek in the national parks. It is to hear the waterfalls, observe the wildlife and escape from the commercialism of our everyday existence - not to hear the thrumming noise of engines in the air.

The powerful and connected individuals will not acknowledge the uniqueness of this park experience. It is to those that I must speak out and say that the park system is for ALL of the citizens of the world. Not for a few who are able to afford a trip in the sky or are too lazy to seek the peace and quiet most of us are seeking.

The impact studies concerning the environment should be clear enough evidence that this is not healthy for us or for the area.

Find another way to create revenue and don't make Mount Rainier another DisneyWorld.

When hiking in the back country in Glacier, I find the helicopter flights very intrusive. I would think the same would hold true to Mt. Rainier. You want to hike to find solitude. Hiking miles into the back country only to be buzzed by a helicopter would truly be a shame.

Unlike the "DisneyWorld" atmosphere of Grand Canyon, Crater Lake or Grand Teton National Parks, 97% of Mount Rainier National Park is designated Wilderness.
Which also happens to border on the Glacier View, Clearwater, Norse Peak, William O Douglas and Tatoosh Wilderness's.

In my heart I agree with the views already presented, however, I don't agree with the characterizations of those who avail themselves of air-tour opportunities. The person who introduced me to the wonder and beauty of our national parks had to limit her visits to wheelchair accessible parks and views. One of her great joys was to see the Grand Canyon by helicopter, which took her to views and summits she could never have reached on her own.

As the population ages, a balance needs to be struck between the quiet and solitude desired by those lucky enough to be physically able to meet the challenge, and those whose love and appreciaton of these national treasures cannot be matched by their physical abilities. The more people who experience the parks, the more supporters of parks there will be.

Went to the Grand Canyon Skywalk on the Hualapai reservation shortly after it opened in '07. At any given time one could easily spot as many as seven helicopters flying nearby. I didn't find them annoying but with that much uncontrolled air traffic in a fairly restricted area, there's no way in h**l you could get me on one of those things.


When hiking in the back country in Glacier, I find the helicopter flights very intrusive. I would think the same would hold true to Mt. Rainier. You want to hike to find solitude. Hiking miles into the back country only to be buzzed by a helicopter would truly be a shame.

I feel the same about Harley-Davidson motorcycles - especially the ones that have been modified to be louder. The sound can carry for miles.

I do remember hiking to the top of Mount Tallac near Lake Tahoe (not necessarily out of sight from civilization but still miles from any road) and coming across the owner and employees of a local brewery. They brought a keg to the top and shared it with anyone. As a small plane flew over Fallen Leaf lake, we raised our glasses to the pilot, who proceeded to tip a wing in response. It wasn't too loud though.

Commercial sightseeing flights should be kept to a bare minimum or even none over a park as small as Mount Rainier. Aerial tourists from Pugetopolis could get excellent views along the west & north boundary on their way to & from St. Helens, for example. Because of the relative scarcity of clear days, 'The Mountain' is already a magnet for private pilots when the most visitors are present. Nearly all small planes seem to obey the two-thousand foot terrain clearance, but the skies already can seem pretty busy at times. Wouldn't any commercial quota be similarly crowded into the same periods of good weather? There is a busy flight corridor just south of the park used day & night by military helicopters traveling between Fort Lewis and the Yakima firing range. Additionally, the NPS uses contract helicopters fairly extensively for research, search & rescue, supplying & maintaining backcountry ranger stations, and removing human waste vaults.

What I remember was how clear and how many the stars at night were as I reached the top. The unique quite at night is something to listen for, and keeps me coming.

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