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Do Air Tours Disturb Peace Of Mount Rainier Park?

Hansi Lo Wang

Are sightseeing flights over Mount Rainier too noisy for visitors looking for a quiet moment in the woods? The federal government is considering banning those flights in national parks. KUOW's Hansi Lo Wang has more.


[Sound of crowd chatter at meeting]

At a recent public meeting in Seattle, federal officials presented plans for managing air tours over Mount Rainier National Park. It's part of a national effort to limit noise pollution from aircraft flying over parks.

Here's Lelaina Marin of the National Park Service:

Marin: "I definitely think that since this process has started, other people are realizing just, I really do go to Mount Rainier to hear natural sounds and to experience solitude."

Mount Rainier park officials say rangers have heard some complaints about airplane noise from visitors, but not much.

Joel Eisenberg and Marcia McCraw are from Seattle, and they're regular visitors to Mount Rainier. They say they usually hear —

Eisenberg: "Cars."

McCraw: "Birds."

Eisenberg: "People, birds."

Reporter: "Any airplane noise?"

Eisenberg: "No, no one ever hears any noise from an airplane. You might hear a commercial plane going by, but this isn't about commercial planes."

The management plan for Mount Rainier would only restrict air tours. Commercial jetliners and private planes, so far, can still enjoy the view.

The proposed rules might limit the number of air tours over the park or redirect flights so they go around, instead of over, Mount Rainier. Or air tours could be banned altogether. That would make some conservationists happy, like Gordon Hempton, who lives on the Olympic Peninsula.

Hempton: "Our national parks with wilderness areas are definitely the areas that you should be able to go and have your time alone, as long as you need to be there."

Last year, sightseeing tourists took a total 55 flights over Mount Rainier. It's a small number when you compare it to air tours at larger national parks like the Grand Canyon.

Mount Rainier park officials say, right now, noise from the air tours is not a big problem. The reason could be sticker shock. Air tour companies are charging at least 200 bucks per person for a one–hour tour.

For KUOW News, I'm Hansi Lo Wang.

© Copyright 2011, KUOW

Note: Park officials will take public comments on air tours over Mount Rainier until May 16, 2011.