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One Square Inch of Quiet

Tom Banse
09/27/2007

The quietest square inch in the continental United States is — drumroll please — at a rock placed on a moss-covered log in the Hoh Rain Forest of Olympic National Park. An Olympic Peninsula man identified the spot as part of his quest to preserve solitude in the national parks. He writes complaint letters to airlines that fly overhead and sometimes even gets results. Correspondent Tom Banse went with the sound tracker for a visit.

TRANSCRIPT

FOR TWENTY FIVE YEARS, GORDON HEMPTON HAS MADE A LIVING RECORDING NATURE SOUNDS FOR USE IN MUSEUM, BUSINESS AND DOCUMENTARY PROJECTS. SO IT MAKES SENSE THAT HE'D MAKE IT HIS PERSONAL QUEST TO COMBAT NOISE POLLUTION AND PRESERVE QUIET.

HEMPTON: "The natural soundscapes that our pioneers enjoyed — and they did enjoy it, that's the way they wrote about it in their journals — was quickly disappearing and hardly anyone was noticing."

THE 54-YEAR-OLD DECIDED HE WOULD IDENTIFY THE QUIETEST SPOT IN THE UNITED STATES. THEN HE'D CAMPAIGN TO DEFEND THAT PLACE FROM NOISE INTRUSIONS. THE PORT ANGELES AREA RESIDENT LISTENED FAR AND WIDE. BUT AS IT TURNED OUT, HE DIDN'T NEED TO. HEMPTON FOUND WHAT HE WAS AFTER CLOSE BY: IN THE UPPER HOH VALLEY OF OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK.

HEMPTON: "For one thing, it's set off in a corner of the United States so much of the air traffic is absent. We have a blanket of clouds that covers us most of the year so air tourism has not evolved."

HEMPTON AGREED TO TAKE ME TO THE PLACE HE DUBS THE "ONE SQUARE INCH."

HEMPTON: "It's the listener's Yosemite. A beautiful experience."

IT'S A THREE MILE HIKE UNDER MOSS DRAPED TREES FROM THE HOH RAINFOREST VISITOR CENTER. JUST BEFORE WE ARRIVE AT THE SPOT, HE STOPS TO SHARE ONE RULE. THERE'S NO TALKING.

HEMPTON: "You got anything to say, say it now because I don't want to hear a peep out of you. Footsteps only. Any more is for when we get back. All right? Alright, let's go."

AFTER THE FACT, I CAN TELL YOU THAT WE WALKED FOR A MINUTE ON A SHORT SIDE TRAIL. GORDON HEMPTON STOPPED AT A FALLEN LOG SET AMIDST MAGNIFICENT HEMLOCK AND SITKA SPRUCE. A RECTANGULAR REDDISH STONE ON THE MOSSY LOG MARKS THE PREEMINENT SQUARE INCH OF NATURAL QUIET. AN INTERESTING THING HERE, QUIET DOES NOT EQUATE TO SILENCE.

SOUND: [woodpecker]

A WOODPECKER DRUMS ON A NEARBY TREE. AT THIS TIME OF YEAR, HEMPTON HAS ALSO CAPTURED ELK BUGLING.

SOUND: [elk bugles]

THEN, AS IF ON CUE, AIRPLANE SOUND INTRUDES. IT'S JUST OUT OF RANGE FOR ME TO CAPTURE ON TAPE. HEMPTON PULLS OUT A NOTEBOOK AND LOGS THE TIME, DESCRIPTION, AND TAKES A DECIBEL METER READING.

LATER HEMPTON EXPLAINS AIRCRAFT ARE THE PRIMARY NOISE POLLUTERS IN THE PARK. SOMETIMES HE'S GETS A TAIL NUMBER OR IDENTIFIES THE OVERFLIGHT WITH HELP FROM AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL. THEN HE COMPOSES A COMPLAINT LETTER.

HEMPTON: "...at 12:32 an aircraft noise intrusion of 56 dB was measured at the Hoh Valley of Olympic National Park..."

THIS IS FROM A LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT OF ALASKA AIRLINES.

HEMPTON: "These overflights are entirely preventable. Will you please request from the FAA that all northbound flights out of Sea-Tac use a route that avoids Olympic park..."

HEMPTON HAS RECEIVED REPLIES FROM VARIOUS AIRLINES. THEY GIVE AN INCH, PROMISING NOT TO ROUTE TEST FLIGHTS OR MAINTENANCE FLIGHTS OVER THE NOISE SENSITIVE AREA.

PARK VISITOR CHRIS STIX CALLS IT "MARVELOUS" THAT AN INDIVIDUAL CAN GET SUCH RESULTS. HE'S A COLLEGE FRIEND OF HEMPTON'S FROM BOSTON.

STIX: "I think it's one of the more exciting personal efforts at preserving the environment."

VISITORS ARE WELCOME AT THE ONE SQUARE INCH SITE. A SO-CALLED "JAR OF SILENT THOUGHTS" THERE IS STUFFED WITH COMMENTS LEFT BEHIND BY HIKERS. I CAN'T REPEAT THEM. BY RULE, THE THOUGHTS ARE TO REMAIN QUIET. YOU CAN FIND HIKING DIRECTIONS AT THE WEBSITE ONESQUAREINCH.ORG. I'M TOM BANSE IN OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK.

© Copyright 2007, KUOW

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