Sightseeing flights -- buzzing helicopters and droning planes -- over national parks long have been a contentious issue. Officials at Grand Canyon National Park have grappled with them, they've been an issue at Denali National Park and Preserve, Mount Rainier National Park, and many other park units.
Often part of the issue in coming up with satisfactory guidelines is the National Park Service and the Federal Aviation Administration have struggled with who should have the final say. Well, at Crater Lake National Park that issue went away last week when the president signed into law a bill that reauthorized the FAA.
Amended to that bill was language crafted by U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley that gives Crater Lake officials the final say on what, if any, overflights will be permitted.
When the Senate first approved the language back in 2010, the two Democrats said it was intended to preserve the quiet nature of Crater Lake.
“I see this as a first step in keeping our national parks free of noise pollution that can ruin visitors’ experience of our national treasures,” Sen. Wyden said at the time. “From today on, the precious quiet of Crater Lake will be something future generations can count on as much as we do today.”
“This is an important provision to preserve this special place," added Sen. Merkley. "Future generations should be able to travel there without noise disruptions and enjoy the same experience travelers from all over the world see today.”
Now, Crater Lake officials are still a ways off from utilizing that authority, as they're currently in the second year of a study into the possible impacts overflights could have on the park.
Still, in recognizing the final success of that legislation, National Parks Conservation Association officials wrote Sen. Wyden to thank him for his efforts.
"On behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association and especially our more than 5,000 Oregon members, we want to thank you for your successful efforts to protect the natural soundscapes and overall park experience at Crater Lake National Park," wrote Sean Smith, NPCA's policy director. "Specifically, we greatly appreciate your efforts to protect the park from the impact of disruptive, intrusive sight-seeing helicopter air tours."
At the same time, Mr. Smith urged Sen. Wyden not to stop at Crater Lake.
"Unfortunately, the need for this legislation illustrates a larger, still unresolved problem: the confusion between the National Park Service and the Federal Aviation Administration over who has primary authority to determine the impact of sight-seeing air tours on park resources," the NPCA official wrote. "We look forward to working further with you to better protect all national parks where air tours occur by clarifying the respective roles of these two agencies."