Silence is golden in Rocky Mountain NP

"Misty Forest" by Erik Stensland of Estes Park, CO. Used with permission.
“Misty Forest” by Erik Stensland of Estes Park, Colo. Used with permission.

I wasn’t aware of it … because it wasn’t there. And I didn’t fully appreciate that fact until I got my newsletter from the Rocky Mountain Conservancy yesterday.

All these many decades I’ve enjoyed and loved Rocky Mountain National Park for its serene beauty, majestic peaks, fascinating wildlife, and beckoning trails. Sure, I’ve chafed at the crowds that gather near the roads in the parking areas and at scenic overlooks, but I always remind myself that they too, are enjoying the park. As a child and even now when I get away from the crowds and make my way down some obscure little trail where the only sound is a few birds, the wind in the pines, and the crunch of gravel underfoot, I imagine that it must have been something like this for the early Indians and trappers who moved through the same forest. I imagine that I’m back in time and one of them. Until I look up and see jet contrails crisscrossing the sky above. Those certainly weren’t part of the picture back in the 1800s and earlier.

I never missed, or even thought about, what wasn’t there. Noise pollution. Helicopters. I can’t imagine anything more jarring, intrusive, and totally destructive of my best moments in the park than a helicopter full of tourists suddenly appearing over the ridge or skimming the treetops overhead. Even in the city, at least once a week, their distinctive whup-whup-whup beats the air around my house, rattling the windows and drowning out every other sound.

I railed some months back about the unacceptable noise produced by private drones. I can’t imagine the cacophony of low-flying helicopters with their distinctive sounds and vibrations bouncing off Rocky’s mountainsides, resonating down valleys and across meadows and lakes.

But thankfully there are no commercial helicopters ruining the tranquility of Rocky. And there never will be. In 1995, in response to increasing pressure from tourism operators, the League of Women Voters of Estes Park launched a campaign called “Ban the Buzz” and succeeded in getting a law passed in 1998 that bans forever all commercial air tours in Rocky. By an Act of Congress, Rocky is the only national park in the country with such a ban.

The ban is critically important and well worth celebrating, as it will be on July 15:

On this special day and in conjunction with World Listening Day, the National Park Service, Natural Sounds and Night Sky Division, and the League of Women Voters of Estes Park, will be presenting an entire day of activities built around the appreciation of silence and the celebration of this distinct honor.

Thank you, LWV, for saving my park.

6 thoughts on “Silence is golden in Rocky Mountain NP

  1. I’ve never been to this park but am very glad the choppers are banned. They could start a fire in the park too if they God forbid, crashed. Noise pollution is rampant in Las Vegas but add the fact that Nellis AFB is a few miles away. Every morning around ten or eleven AM, a pack of fighter jets head west over the north rim of the valley, near us. Wow, the noise. Choppers? We got ’em. Metro flies around all the time, there are private choppers, then the tourist choppers that day and night circle the Strip. In spite of this it’s a good place to live but in a place like your park, totally unacceptable. Three cheers for those lady voters. 🙂

    1. I wish I could hug every one of them. The loudest sound I ever want to hear in that park is the bugling of an elk, the screech of an eagle, or the roar of a waterfall.

    1. Aren’t you the clever one. 🙂

      The law should have been made applicable to all parks, but I guess the tours are already well established in many parks and tour operators would object to their businesses being shut down

      I can imagine that some people would say it’s the only way they have to see a park (time constraints or whatever), but the choppers ruin the experience for other visitors who might also have limited time. Their one day in the park would be ruined if there were a chopper in the area.

        1. And there might ensue a disagreement on what it means to enjoy a park and whose way should prevail. I’m just glad the choppers were banned here before they ever got started. Getting that genie back in the bottle would have been extremely difficult.

... and that's my two cents