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: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?parkId=323&projectId=29122
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 (Keith.Lusk@faa.gov).