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Tour Company Wants to Offer Helicopter Overflights of Crater Lake National Park, But Likely Won't See A Decision Soon


Should helicopter overflights be allowed in Crater Lake National Park? NPS photo of Phantom Ship in Crater Lake.

An aviation company that offers helicopter tours of central Oregon wants to add Crater Lake National Park to its flight plans, but opposition to the proposal is mounting.

The proposal by Leading Edge Aviation to offer tours that basically would have helicopters fly 1,500 feet above the park's Rim Road has been criticized by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, who pressed Jon Jarvis, the nominee for National Park Service director, to oppose the company's request. "Suffice it to say, Oregonians are just up in arms about the prospect," the Oregon Democrat told Mr. Jarvis during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday.

Mr. Jarvis was noncommittal in his response, as is the nature of nominees at their confirmation hearings these days.

"I can't predict the final outcome on this, but I do believe it would be our responsibility to ensure that the visitor experience and ultimate quiet that you find at Crater Lake is preserved," said Mr. Jarvis.

Also opposed to the overflights, which reportedly could number as many as 300 per year, is the National Parks Conservation Association, which sees them as a noisy intrusion upon Crater Lake.

“At a minimum, Crater Lake could have an increase in helicopter motor noise in the park, and there are a good number of people who would have a problem with that," said the NPCA's Sean Smith, who added there are safety concerns as well.

Back in September 1995 a helicopter crashed into Crater Lake and sank to the bottom, where it remains today. Two men were killed in the crash, and their remains were never recovered.

While Crater Lake has no officially designated wilderness that possibly could be impaired by helicopter overflights, Mr. Smith said that, “For all intents and purposes it (the park) almost is a de facto wilderness, except for the road that goes through the center. A good portion of the park is not accessible by roads."

Dimming the prospects for a somewhat immediate decision on the aviation company's request is the fact that the Federal Aviation Administration has a backlog of more than 80 National Park System units where air-tour management plans need to be adopted before it can consider this request. Adding an air of confusion to the matter is the dispute between the FAA and the National Park Service over which agency has jurisdiction when it comes to park overflights.

On Tuesday there was a meeting between FAA and NPS representatives in Arizona to discuss air tours over Grand Canyon National Park. Exactly how many air tours over the Grand Canyon there are every year is a matter of dispute, as the FAA logged 56,000 last year while the Park Service recorded about 43,000, according to a story in the Arizona Daily Sun.


No! Helicopter noise can be very loud if directly under it. The last think our family wanted to see is a chopper overhead when we had just hiked to the top of Wizard Island.
1500 feet above the rim road is about the same amount as the top of nearby Mt. Scott is above the rim road. When we got there, we wanted to see the view of the state quarter, not a helicopter at our eye level.
Crater Lake has the clearest water in the world. I am sure flyovers will do nothing to preserve that status.

"I can't predict the final outcome on this, but I do believe it would be our responsibility to ensure that the visitor experience and ultimate quiet that you find at Crater Lake is preserved," said Mr. Jarvis.

The "ultimate quiet" at Crater Lake? Either Jarvis has never visited the park in summer or he is delusional.

Preservationists lost the battle to preserve Crater Lake's silence a century ago. Joaquin Miller in 1904 wrote in Sunset magazine:

The plan is now to build, have the government build, a drive around the lake, so that all these points may be considered in a single day from a carriage. And a great hotel is planned! And a railroad must be made to whisk you through the life-and-vigor-giving evergreen forests of Arden. Well, so be it, if you must so mock nature and break this hush and silence of a thousand centuries, but I shall not be here. No hotel or house or road of any sort should ever be built near this Sea of Silence. All our other parks have been surrendered to hotels and railroads. Let us keep this last and best sacred to silence and nature. That which is not worth climbing to see is not worth seeing.

When I lived and worked at Crater Lake, I found little silence but constantly heard car horns and alarms, boats buzzing around the lake, the drone of fixed-wing aircraft, heavy machinery, snowplows, snowmobiles, Harleys, and the howls and screams of invasive primates echoing through the forest and around the Rim.

Helicopters are just the latest machine proposed to join the Crater Lake cacophony. The desecration began a century ago after government-granted monopolies lobbied the federal government to build roads and lodges and ushered in the Age of Industrial Tourism that would benefit a select few while irreparably impairing the serenity.

The Sea of Silence disappeared a century ago. Where has the outrage been?

Image: Noisy road construction at Crater Lake.
Image: Noisy construction at Rim Village.
Image: Noisy boat tours on Crater Lake. The National Park Service allows loud, smelly, boats on Crater Lake; there have been several fuel spills on or around the lake. The multinational, government-granted monopoly Xanterra charges up to $37 a person for a trip to Wizard Island. Of that $37, maybe $2 goes to support the national park.

The multinational, government-granted monopoly Xanterra charges up to $37 a person for a trip to Wizard Island. Of that $37, maybe $2 goes to support the national park.

More like $1.11

Xanterra: the private sector at work. If it were up to Libertarians there would either be 5000 tour operators at Crater Lake or it would be a private reserve for the hyper-rich. But being the "best idea America ever had" it naturally follows that Libertarians don't like parks.

I suppose I can quit reading these threads since the majority of them end up as soapboxes for proselytizers of the demonstrably false Libertarian quasi-religion. Whether it's the fault of the True BeLIEvers or of the moderators (who should know by now that said True Believers have no self-control) I won't presume to say. Just had to get it off my chest.

Xanterra: the private sector at work.

Anonymous, you missed the part where I described Xanterra as a government-granted monopoly. Xanterra is in no, way, shape or form part of the "private sector". Your entire response after that false assertion is ridden with logical fallacies, so I will not address it other than what I've already mentioned.

Thank you, and have a good day.

Frank and Anonymous,

Did you guys miss the memo on condescension?

Beyond that, Frank, I'd disagree with your perception of Xanterra as a government-granted monopoly. As your own source notes, such a monopoly is created when "a government grants exclusive privilege to a private individual or firm to be the sole provider of a good or service; potential competitors are excluded from the market by law, regulation, or other mechanisms of government enforcement.(my emphasis)."

As the recent post out of Bryce Canyon clearly illustrates, concession contracts are put up for competitive bid. In that most recent case, Xanterra lost its contract to Forever Resorts, a development that runs counter to your contention.

Frank and Anonymous,

Did you guys miss the memo on condescension?

Kurt, I did not get a memo on condescension, but I did get the one on personal attacks and have been avoiding those. I assure you that any condescension readers might take from my words are read into them by the reader, and I am endeavoring to write in neutral tones.

As for putting concession contracts up for bid, that introduces the appearance of competition, but the government remains a middleman, and for periods as long as decades, all other competition is excluded by law from entering the market.

This dosen't have much to due with the terrible idea of scenic flights at any Park, but I have to agree with Frank C. about monopoly concessions. In addition to the tiny fees paid to the government, often the facilities are property of the NPS, which picks up most of the maintenance tab. The infrequent renewals tend to breed overly cosy concession managers and Park managers, a very powerful bloc in planning & policy affecting both the visitor experience and the economy of rural gateway communities.

A couple examples from Mount Rainier: The Paradise mass transit system leaves from one concessionaire and delivers you to another, while bypassing most local businesses. Clients of lodging and climbing concessions had access during the six-month 'flood' closure of 2007, while the public was totally excluded, even from hiking across the boundary.

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