Park System Proposes Grand Canyon Flight Restrictions

The National Park Service (NPS) has drafted a plan that will place limits on popular birds-eye-view flights over the Grand Canyon, bringing peace and quiet to the park.

According to the NPS proposal, over 400,000 visitors take flight above the canyon each year on helicopters and small planes. To limit noise, the park is proposing to implement no-fly zones over certain areas of the 1,902-square-mile park.

The proposal also calls for at least an hour of quiet before sunset and after sunrise, as well as raising height limits for flying aircraft over the canyon. The NPS also hopes to phase in quieter aircraft over the next 10 years.

"In the litany of the park's attributes, natural quiet is perhaps one of the most important. Without its natural soundscape -- a canyon wren's descending trill, wind rustling through the pines, the roar of the Colorado River, and silence – Grand Canyon would still be amazing to look at, but it would lack something essential and vital to its remote and wild character," says Palma Wilson, Acting Park Superintendent in the proposal.

The park hopes to reduce noise from aircraft operations below 17,999 feet, which should result in at least 50% of the park being free of aircraft sounds for at least 75% of the day. This way, the park can actually increase the number of tours without negatively impacting noise levels in the canyon below.

The Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association are among several environmental groups that applauded the proposed limits.

The NPS will hold a series of public meetings on the issue, and is allowing the public to let their opinion be heard online through June 6.

Last month, the park service reduced the number of daily mule riders allowed on the South Rim's Bright Angel Trail, the canyon's most popular hiking route, from 40 to 10. The NPS cited trail erosion and annoyance to hikers as reasons to limit the mule tours.

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