Scientists get a free ride

  -We're not very receptive to charges that the park is "wimping out," "''''says Rocky Mountain National Park spokesman Doug Caldwell. But critics say the park did just that - by permitting a crew of soil scientists to take a helicopter ride in a wilderness study area.


Last summer, the park in northeastern Colorado sent a group of scientists from the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service to study sites in the remote Paradise Park area and the Mummy Range. But the scientists went by helicopter, not by foot or horse. The reason? An internal park document obtained by the Washington, D.C.-based group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, says the scientists found packing in "unacceptable."


"Admittedly, the (Conservation Service) folks are not the "outdoor enthusiasts' that many of the park staff are," says the document. "Their agency culture and their individual backgrounds do not lend towards days of hiking and camping without the normal accoutrements."


Wilderness program specialist Tim Devine opposed the park's decision, commenting that the scientists' "personal comforts should not override our responsibility and mission to protect park wilderness resources." His arguments were overruled.


"The Wilderness Act does give public land agencies some latitude in these decisions," responds Caldwell. He says the helicopter was only used in remote, trailless areas, where pack animals would have damaged the terrain.


Jackie Taylor of PEER's Rocky Mountain office remains unconvinced. "This destroys the wilderness experience," she says. "Helicopter use should be the exception rather than the rule - and the park needs to be careful in the precedent it sets."


*Michelle Nijhuis


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