National parks pull the plug on jet skis

  The National Park Service will ban personal watercraft by mid-September on all of its waterways except 11 national recreation areas and two national seashores. The prohibition follows bans by individual parks, including the Everglades in Florida, Canyonlands in Utah, and most recently Olympic National Park in Washington, where Lake Crescent will see its last jet skiers Oct. 1.

The agency says it decided on strong measures because the high-speed craft, which comprise 11 percent of registered boats, account for over 35 percent of accidents. The water toys also disturb wildlife in shallow water and leave 25 percent of their oil and gas emissions in the water.

In Olympic National Park, says spokeswoman Barb Maynes, most of the 2,000 people commenting on a ban complained that boaters used personal watercraft for thrills rather than transportation. She says visitors don't complain about motorboats and highway traffic along the lake, but that noisy jet skis destroy their park experience.

John Donaldson, director of the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, downplayed the new rule, saying it will affect few owners. But he worries media reports will spook consumers and prompt local governments to follow suit in banning jet skis.

In Washington state, San Juan County already took action to ban the craft, and on July 9 the state Supreme Court upheld that decision, even though it may reduce state income from boat registration. Martha Ireland, commissioner of nearby Clallam County, Wash., wishes a ban could have been avoided. "The park should have considered restricting use to certain speeds and areas instead, like on highways," she says.

Commissioner Ireland hopes her county can gain control of Lake Crescent under R.S. 2477, a 19th century mining law that grants counties authority over public highways.

*Taffeta Elliott