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Helicopters in the Canyon - an editorial comment

"An educated tourist is a good tourist."

The amount of feedback that I get regarding this topic continues to grow and it seems that the majority of people that I hear from agree with my opinion. I have actually only had one e-mail that went the other way but that was from a helicopter pilot and is to be expected.

I personally have nothing against helicopters or helicopter pilots nor do I have nothing against people seeing the Canyon from a helicopter if that's what they really want to do. I have recently even added a link to the web site for people who want to do this. I finally gave in not because I want to encourage people to use this ecologically harmful form of tourism but because people have a right to make their own decisions. People that care about the environment and about the impact of their actions on the environment and on others will most likely avoid the use of helicopters on their own.

A wilderness area is simply not the right place to be using a device that causes such a distraction and creates such an annoyance. It ruins the natural beauty of a place that so many people come from so very far away to enjoy. The people who take to the backcountry trails in the Grand Canyon do so to escape the world outside and above and leave the distractions like helicopters behind. I have been fortunate myself in that I have only had one backcountry trip ruined by helicopters buzzing about, this was a trip a trip to the Hermit Basin area back in May of 1994. Ever since that trip I have been highly recommending that backcountry hikers, day hikers and others avoid this area because it is pure helicopter hell, at least during prime tourist season. During that trip there were helicopters in the sky constantly from just after sunrise to just before sunset and frequently more than one at a time. This is really too bad because the scenery in that section of the Canyon is some of the best you will find, but if you are looking for a backcountry experience with peace and quiet this is not the place to do it. I can remember day hiking there once in December though and not having a problem with them, but it was also snowing at the time and there was a very low cloud cover which could have grounded them.

On the flip side of this coin are the people who want to see the Canyon up close but who cannot for one reason or another climb down into it. Should they not be allowed to see it because of some physical impairment or disablility? No, of course not, this is the perfect use for an air tour. Other people simply have no desire to enjoy the full Canyon experience and even though they are probably quite capable of climbing down into it they have no intention of ever doing so. Others may like to climb down into it and simply do not have the time that is required to do so. For all of these people the air tours are the only way for them to see the Canyon up close. No, it's not the best way to do it and it does create problems for others but they have their rights too. One other thing that these people should consider, however, is that an air tour does not have to be in a noisy and obtrustive helicopter. Some airtour operators use fixed-winged aircraft (airplanes) like the Vista-Liner that make MUCH less noise and can carry four times more people in one trip.

Sad as it may be for the people (myself among them) who want to restore the natural quiet and tranquility to the Canyon, helicopters will continue to be part of the Grand Canyon experience and there is no way around it. But we must come to agreement on reasonable limits on the frequency of these over-flights, on the total number of craft in the air at any given time, on the areas that they are allowed to be and on the areas that they are not, and acceptable noise levels. I have my rights too, and they are just as valid as those who want to see the Canyon from a helicopter. I want peace and quiet and at times total solitude and there are a decreasing number of places in the world where you can find this that are easily accessible, the Grand Canyon being one of them. The number of over-flights in the Canyon has simply gotten out of hand. The Park Service has managed to control just about every other type of activity that takes place in the Canyon, from backcountry use to rafting the river, and it's time that they do something about this.

It would be interesting to know what people like Teddy Roosevelt would have to say about the use of helicopters in the park. I'm sure that he and others who worked so hard to create Grand Canyon National Park never envisioned anything like them and so could not plan for them. But then again, maybe he (they) did...

"Do nothing to mar its grandeur for the ages
have been at work upon it and man cannot
improve it. Keep it for your children,
your children's children, and all
who come after you..."
Theodore Roosevelt

Use your brain, be responsible for your actions and be considerate of others. It's your decision but we all have to live with it.
-- Bob Ribokas

The views expressed here are my own and
they are not necessarily the views of
the National Park Service
or my employers.

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