Years ago, an international finance student named Karen Trevino went on a Kenyan safari. She was deep in the Serengeti when her van came across a cheetah. The creature was striking — but so was the cluster of vans surrounding it. Trevino promptly switched to environmental law upon returning home, and for the last decade or so has run the United States Park System’s Natural Sounds and Night Skies division.
Which is to say that the U.S. government, for all its blundering, also happens to be looking out for our vacations in a surprisingly sensitive way — by attempting to keep our national parks a little quieter.
Given the popularity of these travel destinations, limiting decibel levels has become an increasingly central component of local conservation efforts. Travelers don’t want to journey all the way to Washington’s serene Olympic National Park, only to have their reveries interrupted by motorcycles. Or snowmobiles. Or someone’s radio.
Or, most common, airplane noise. Perhaps you’ve fallen behind in your reading of New Zealand Department of Conservation air noise surveys. If so, you might’ve missed this summer’s finding from the state sector organization: When it comes to aircraft flying overhead, the number of travelers annoyed by the din at Fox and Franz Josef glaciers has risen to nearly one in four. It’s a seemingly trivial statistic — until you pull back and look at the larger issue of travel and noise.
Some time back I spoke with Trevino about the government’s efforts to monitor and limit noise in our national parks. As she described it, her division is helping to guard the very serenity we seek out on our vacations.
“Many people visit national parks to get away from the clamor of everyday life,” she said. “Part of our job is to make sure they have that, and to balance that with other needs of the park.”
The division’s work is as varied as the parks themselves:
- The Park Service has collected over 20 terabytes of data in 185 different sites in over 65 different park units.
- In Utah’s Zion National Park, the first-ever soundscape management plan was created.
- The office fielded a request from Glacier National Park, in Montana, to minimize the impact from howitzers used for avalanche control.
- At Glacier Bay National Park, in Alaska, the division has looked at the regulation of cruise ships, which emit a surprising amount of noise.
- Even cultural noise, like New Orleans jazz or “Taps” on a battlefield, is afforded protection.
“To the best of my knowledge,” Trevino told me, “the National Park Service is the only federal land management agency that protects natural and cultural sounds as part of our mandate. When people are thinking of their vacation, the National Park Service is out there working to preserve those sounds for their enjoyment.”
As a lover of our great national parks system — and as someone who flies over those parks in noisy airplanes — I found it all fascinating, and vowed to listen a little more carefully on my next journey.Tags: Downtime,Lifestyle