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Serene National Park Under Threat from Loud Navy Jets

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U.S. Navy jets known as Growlers are as loud as Seattle rush hour traffic. (Tomás Del Coro/Flickr)
U.S. Navy jets known as Growlers are as loud as Seattle rush hour traffic. (Tomás Del Coro/Flickr)
May 31, 2018

ANACORTES, Wash. — One of the quietest places in the country is on the Olympic Peninsula, but its serene nature is under threat.

Olympic National Park has become a refuge for people looking to get away from the noise pollution of cities. That includes Chuck Nelson, a veteran who moved from Seattle to a secluded location near the park.

But in recent years, the U.S. Navy has been flying aircraft known as Growlers over the park to their Whidbey Island air station. Growlers are considered one of the loudest planes in the sky. There are about 10-15 flights per day, and more could be coming.

For Nelson, that's a massive intrusion on an area that has acted as a form of therapy as he works through post-traumatic stress from 12 years of service. He talked about the jets' effect the first time he and some other veterans heard them.

"And this Growler comes over, and those of us that are suffering from PTS were really affected by it - jumping off the trail, taking cover - and it was just a big trigger,” Nelson said.

Nelson is joining other veterans asking the Navy to move the training flights somewhere else. He said the Navy has not been very responsive to these calls, but has pointed to cost savings for training at Whidbey Island, as opposed to other locations in the Northwest.

Nelson is in a short documentary by the National Parks Conservation Association called "Hear Our Olympics," which will be screened on Friday, June 1, in Anacortes.

Rob Smith is the Northwest regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association. He said the park's Hoh Rain Forest acts as a natural sound chamber.

Smith recently measured sound levels at rush hour from his office in Seattle and found they were the same as the noise from a Growler. Otherwise, the forest is 20-30 times quieter.

"The Hoh rain forest and the Olympic National Park should not sound like downtown Seattle at rush hour,” Smith said.

He said it's increasingly hard to get away from the clamor of the city.

"This is one of those places, one of those rare places, you can find that,” he said. “And we should keep that. And if the Navy flies somewhere else, they can train as they need to do, but we can also keep this very special feature."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA