WEST GLACIER – Click on a website Mary T. McClelland created a few days ago, and you’ll see waves lapping at the shore of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.
But what you’ll hear is the noise of a helicopter passing overhead.
“It makes you want to turn it off, doesn’t it?” McClelland says. “That’s sort of the point, because when you’re there, you can’t turn it off.”
McClelland this week released an open letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on behalf of Friends for a Quiet! Glacier Coalition, which calls for an end to scenic helicopter tours over the park by 2017.
The website, quietglacier.wix.com/coalitioninformation, is gathering signatures for a petition directed to Jewell, National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis and Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, which asks for just that.
“Glacier’s solitude has been shattered by hundreds of helicopter overflights,” McClelland’s letter says, “and the incessant noise pollution endured by wildlife and visitors is destroying what Glacier stands for – the pinnacle of natural beauty and tranquility.”
The petition was approaching 100 signatures Tuesday.
The people who run the helicopter tour companies – there are two based here in West Glacier – think the impact is vastly overstated.
“Fifteen seconds after we go over, you’d never know we were there,” says Jim Kruger, owner of Kruger Helicop-Tours. “When they ban Harley Davidson motorcycles, they can talk to me. Have you ever heard a group of them going up Going-to-the-Sun Road?”
McClelland’s letter says 30 years after noise pollution created by helicopter tours in Glacier was identified as a priority problem at congressional hearings, 17 years after it was listed as a critical issue in Glacier’s General Management Plan, and 16 years after passage of the National Parks Air Tour Management Act, nothing has changed.
“We still have no peace in Glacier,” McClelland says. “Today, more than 500 helicopters per month fly sorties over our nation’s only international peace park and World Heritage Site.”
Only one quarter of 1 percent of the 2.3 million people who visit Glacier each year take a helicopter tour, according to McClelland.
“More than 99 percent of the visiting public is adversely affected by the actions of an extreme few,” she adds. “Helicopter overflights are an inappropriate use, unless they are for rescue, research or necessary park administration. The small number of acoustic offenders is disproportionate to the large number of visitors and the wildlife that are adversely impacted.”
The helicopter tour companies say those “extreme few” include the elderly, and those with physical disabilities, who would not otherwise have the opportunity to see most of Glacier Park.
“They have as much of a right to see it as anybody else,” Kruger says.
McClelland argues that Going-to-the-Sun Road gives those visitors the opportunity to experience the park.
“Anyone who can get into a car or a bus or a boat can see Glacier,” she says. “Anyone who can’t access those options won’t be able to get into a helicopter, either.”
The conveniently located helicopters and their pilots also provide quick aid in search and rescue and wildfire fighting efforts, tour operators point out. They say the helicopters won’t be sitting at the ready, a short distance from the park boundary, if they’re banned from showing paying visitors Glacier from the air.
Friends for a Quiet! Glacier Coalition “is not an organization in and of itself,” McClelland says, but is a group of people and organizations that have expressed similar concerns with noise pollution in Glacier.
According to McClelland, they include the Sierra Club, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the National Park Conservation Association, Wilderness Watch, the Swan View Coalition, Friends of the Wild Swan, the Montana Ecosystems Defense Council, the North Fork Preservation Association and Headwaters Montana.
“They support and want to help Glacier restore its soundscape, and get back the quiet that has been the park’s signature,” she says.
McClelland says she grew up in Glacier, the daughter of parents who worked for the National Park Service, and splits her time between Illinois and Montana.
On the other side of the issue are Glacier Heli Tours, owned by Minuteman Aviation of Missoula, and Kruger Helicop-Tours. Both take off just outside the park near U.S. Highway 2 in West Glacier.
Minuteman owner and president Jerry Mamuzich was out of town and unavailable for comment Tuesday, and employees declined to speak on behalf of the company in his absence. Kruger says he thinks the vast majority of Glacier visitors aren’t bothered by an occasional scenic tour flying overhead.
Kruger is entering its 36th year flying visitors over Glacier. Glacier Heli Tours is beginning its 32nd year.
McClelland’s letter says the coalition is responding to the park service’s “call to action” for this year’s NPS centennial celebration.
It calls on Jewell to use the service’s 100th birthday on Aug. 25 to announce “that helicopter overflights will be discontinued per Glacier National Park’s 1999 General Management Plan, and that helicopter scenic tours will cease no later than 2017.”
Original article can be found here: http://missoulian.com