How can someone spend anywhere from $500 to $3,000 for a drone, drive to the Marin Headlands portion of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, walk several hundred yards from the parking lot along with dozens of other visitors, commence to flying his drone on the trail to the Point Bonita Lighthouse, and claim not to know he was in a national park?
Ignornace is bliss? Nah, that's too easy.
The guy I ran into the other weekend knew exactly where he was -- he was standing with a gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge dominating the horizon -- and more than likely knew that flying a drone in the NRA is illegal. Drones have been a problem at Golden Gate NRA in recent years -- several years ago a drone nearly collided with several visitors at Alcatraz Island -- and more recently there have been issues with them at Yellowstone National Park, where one pilot crashed his into iconic Grand Prismatic Spring, and at Yosemite National Park. So great a problem have these remote control aircraft become that the National Park Service last June ordered that drones be prohibited in all units of the park system.
"Isn't flying drones in a national park illegal?" I asked him.
"Is it?" he answered.
"Yeah, I think so," said I.
"Is this a park?" he said with a smirk, before turning back to his controls.
He was drawing a crowd, and it's fortunate he didn't crash his drone into them, or onto the cliffside below him. Perhaps if there were rangers about they might have cited him or convinced him to keep his drone in his car, but there weren't, and the few volunteers working the crowds were more absorbed with opening the tunnel to the Point Bonita Lighthouse than directing air traffic.
Drones can be great tools, and can capture wonderful photographs. But they also can be dangerous in crowded settings, in places where they can startle or harass wildlife, or where they can crash into priceless objects or natural curiosities, such as Grand Prismatic Spring. Unfortunately, if parks can't afford to have rangers out patrolling the grounds, more and more drone jockeys will figure their odds of being caught are long.