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Crater Lake National Park Officials Given Final Say Over Sightseeing Overflights


Legislation signed into law last week by President Obama gives Crater Lake National Park officials final say on whether sightseeing helicopters can fly over the picturesque lake in Oregon. Photo by QT Luong,, used with permission.

Sightseeing flights -- buzzing helicopters and droning planes -- over national parks long have been a contentious issue. Officials at Grand Canyon National Park have grappled with them, they've been an issue at Denali National Park and Preserve, Mount Rainier National Park, and many other park units.

Often part of the issue in coming up with satisfactory guidelines is the National Park Service and the Federal Aviation Administration have struggled with who should have the final say. Well, at Crater Lake National Park that issue went away last week when the president signed into law a bill that reauthorized the FAA.

Amended to that bill was language crafted by U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley that gives Crater Lake officials the final say on what, if any, overflights will be permitted.

When the Senate first approved the language back in 2010, the two Democrats said it was intended to preserve the quiet nature of Crater Lake. 

“I see this as a first step in keeping our national parks free of noise pollution that can ruin visitors’ experience of our national treasures,” Sen. Wyden said at the time. “From today on, the precious quiet of Crater Lake will be something future generations can count on as much as we do today.”

“This is an important provision to preserve this special place," added Sen. Merkley. "Future generations should be able to travel there without noise disruptions and enjoy the same experience travelers from all over the world see today.” 

Now, Crater Lake officials are still a ways off from utilizing that authority, as they're currently in the second year of a study into the possible impacts overflights could have on the park.

Still, in recognizing the final success of that legislation, National Parks Conservation Association officials wrote Sen. Wyden to thank him for his efforts. 

"On behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association and especially our more than 5,000 Oregon members, we want to thank you for your successful efforts to protect the natural soundscapes and overall park experience at Crater Lake National Park," wrote Sean Smith, NPCA's policy director. "Specifically, we greatly appreciate your efforts to protect the park from the impact of disruptive, intrusive sight-seeing helicopter air tours."

At the same time, Mr. Smith urged Sen. Wyden not to stop at Crater Lake.

"Unfortunately, the need for this legislation illustrates a larger, still unresolved problem: the confusion between the National Park Service and the Federal Aviation Administration over who has primary authority to determine the impact of sight-seeing air tours on park resources," the NPCA official wrote. "We look forward to working further with you to better protect all national parks where air tours occur by clarifying the respective roles of these two agencies."


I'm a pilot and would love to be able to zoom down through the Grand Canyon, Zion Canyon, Yosemite Valley, around Mt. Rushmore or over Crater Lake for a close look.  But I've also been on the receiving end of aggravating aircraft noise in the first three places on my list.  Like bicycles on trails or ORVs on beaches, one person's pleasure is another's poison.

There are no answers that will please everyone.  For aircraft, altitude restrictions may be a compromise easier than the solutions of some other vexing challenges.

I would hate this.  One of the amazing things about Crater Lake is the absence of things like aircraft.  I thoroughly enjoyed being at the top of Wizard Island and Mount Scott, and seeing magnificent views with nothing detracting from them.  Also, when altitude is considered, it is necessary to keep in mind people who are hiking Mount Scott or any of the other great options, where people are 1,000 to 2,000 feet higher than the rim.


 Crater Lake has been called The Sea of Silence by Joaquin Miller, early poet.“The Sea of Silence.” [Crater Lake] Sunset Magazine 13.5 (September 1904)  Both the Beauty and Majesty of Crater Lake are indescribable: one needsto experience this landscape personally to understand.  The first autos made it to the High Rim near present day Crater Lake Lodge by about 1909 reaching the Rim via the old road today called the Raven Ski Trail.So, the name, The Sea of Silence was given prior to the introduction of noisyengines to only blemish the Quiet Scene.  Quiet is a Value many Americans needto understand or re-learn.  Ironically, Crater Lake Lodge is a noisy placesince all sounds carry in the quiet (even the Xanterra Lodge employees leaving work from the basement door at midnight areunaware of how obnoxious their yelling loud voices sound).  Even more difficult tocorrect are the multitude of buses and truck diesel engines left to idle and foulthe mountain air.  Among the guilty is the Crater Lake NPS itself with its fleet of noisy polluting diesel engines.  Perhaps there will be a Day when most visitorsRespect the Quiet and Value it beyond the dollar, we can only Pray !

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