Anti-noise activists are sounding off about helicopter tours in Glacier National Park and recently drafted an open letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in an effort to quell the landscape by ending scenic tours over the park by 2017.
Mary McClelland wrote the letter on behalf of Friends for a Quiet! Glacier Coalition, which has launched a website to gather signatures for the petition.
In addition to Secretary Jewell, it is copied to National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis and Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, as well as Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow.
“Glacier’s solitude has been shattered by hundreds of helicopter overflights,” McClelland states in the letter, “and the incessant noise pollution endured by wildlife and visitors is destroying what Glacier stands for – the pinnacle of natural beauty and tranquility.”
The pilots who run the two helicopter tour companies based in West Glacier said the impact of their vessels on parklands and visitors’ experience has been overstated for years.
Jim Kruger, who owns Kruger Helicop-Tours, said the noise pollution generated by motorcycles touring the Going-to-the-Sun Road creates far more of a ruckus than his helicopters.
“They’ve been screaming about this for 35 years, but I’ve never heard about anyone trying to ban Harley Davidson motorcycles from driving the road,” Kruger said. “Fifteen seconds after I’m gone you’ll never even know I was there.”
McClelland’s letter states that three decades 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, not much 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.”
As of May 9, the website, quietglacier.wix.com/coalitioninformation, whose homepage features waves lapping at the idyllic shore of Lake McDonald overdubbed with the thrum of a helicopter propeller, had gathered signatures from nearly 170 petitioners.
According to McClelland, Friends for a Quiet! Glacier Coalition includes the Sierra Club, the Alliance for the Wild Rockeis, the National Parks 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.
Kruger said he began his career in the area in 1970, flying search and rescue operations for the park, and performed more than 100 missions as an important function of the park.
“There’s a lot of people who wouldn’t be around today if it wasn’t for me and my helicopter,” Kruger said.
He said his company has been flying visitors over Glacier for the last 36 years, and although he’s limited to 750 flights annually he rarely approaches the limit, flying an average of between 300 and 400 tours during the summer season.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires air tour operators to fly less than 5,000 feet above national parks or abutting tribal lands.
According to McClelland, Glacier National Park administrators have said for decades that their hands are tied, abrogating authority to FAA jurisdiction.