Gentlemen, stop your engines!


Note: in the print edition of this issue, this article appears as a sidebar to another news article, "Zion takes tourists out of their cars."

The Park Service philosophy of accommodating humans and their machines is changing. The first sign came on March 13, when officials announced that they were leaning toward banning snowmobiles in Yellowstone and in Grand Teton national parks (HCN, 3/27/00: Parks rev up to ban snowmobiles).

A flurry of proposals followed:

  • Congress passed a bill March 15 that bans tourist flights over Rocky Mountain National Park and requires all national parks to complete air-tour management plans in cooperation with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The bill is designed to promote natural tranquility in the parks, where the buzz of tourist planes has increased dramatically over the last few years.

    "It's about time," says Kevin Collins of the National Parks Conservation Association, while air-tour companies fear the new rules will ground their operations.
  • On March 21, the National Park Service ruled that Jet Skis will be prohibited in all but 21 of the nation's 379 parks and recreation areas. Personal watercraft have been under the gun for piercing the air with noise and fouling the water. Studies show that Jet Skis dump 25 to 30 percent of their fuel unburned into the water.

    Exceptions to the ban were made for areas primarily used for water recreation, including Lake Powell, Lake Mead and Lake Roosevelt in Washington.
  • Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt unveiled a plan March 27 to reduce auto congestion in Yosemite National Park. The Yosemite Valley Plan calls for tearing out several parking lots inside the park, reducing the current 1,600 parking spaces to 550 spaces. Visitors would park in lots at the edges of Yosemite and take shuttle buses into the valley. The plan also calls for removing several roads, trails and buildings.
  • The next day, March 28, President Clinton announced new restrictions on sightseeing flights over Grand Canyon National Park. The FAA rules outlaw flying over 75 percent of the park, require aircraft to fly 3,500 feet higher, and cap the number of flights allowed each year.
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