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National Park Service Rethinks Grand Canyon Flyovers


Thursday, February 3, 2011   

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - More than 300 flights a day, including many that take off from the Las Vegas area, give tourists a bird's-eye view of the Grand Canyon. However, some of those flights annoy the heck out of other tourists: those who are seeing the park from the ground.

The National Park Service has just released a draft plan to reduce the noise pollution from air tours. Rob Smith, senior regional organizing manager for the Sierra Club, Phoenix, says the plan allows a greater number of flights but limits the areas and times of Grand Canyon flyovers, so that people on the ground have more opportunity to appreciate the silence.

"The problem so far has been that the aircraft and their noise have not been separated from the people in some of the most popular rim overlooks and trails they use. I think the Park Service is moving in the right direction to try to separate those two uses."

Flyover noise has been a concern at the Grand Canyon since the 1980s, according to the Park Service. The plan aims to restore what it calls "natural quiet" in at least 50 percent of the park for most of the day - including an hour of quiet time just after sunrise and before sunset.

Smith says much of the park's appeal is its wild character, and droning engines alter the experience.

"The Grand Canyon is one of those places - rare anymore - where you can go to really wind down, get away from the mechanized noise and get back to nature. But if there's an airplane flying right overhead, you're not really getting back to the places that were set aside for that kind of experience."

Grand Canyon National Park encompasses 1 million acres, so Smith says there should be room for everyone - including in the skies overhead.

Five public meetings will be held to fine-tune the plan, including one in Las Vegas, in the coming months. Written comments can be made to the National Park Service during the next four months, through June 6. The draft plan is available for review at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grca.

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