This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The sounds of nature and the sounds of silence are slowly disappearing from our national parks, immersed in an acoustical fog of anthropogenic noise. Fortunately, Zion National Park in southern Utah has taken steps to preserve the peace, adopting a first-in-the-nation Soundscape Management Plan. Other parks where natural sounds are being drowned out by the sounds of man would be wise to follow suit.
Zion's plan is a welcome acknowledgment that the national parks stimulate all of the senses, and that quiet is a natural resource worthy of protection. For visitors to National Park Service properties, sounds the natural ones you hear and the man-made ones you don't are an integral part of the experience. Surveys have shown that 90 percent of park visitors value the quiet.
But, as people encroach on park borders and crisscross the skies, peace and quiet is becoming increasingly hard to find.
This unnatural cacophony created by man and his machines damages more than just the visitor experience. It can also take a toll on wildlife. An increase in ambient sound of just a few decibels can make it impossible for a predator to detect its prey.
Zion officials, correctly identifying silence and the sounds of nature as resources worth saving, first discussed a soundscape study in 2001, and began measuring noise in the park with solar-powered recording devices in 2007. They found that every 2-3 minutes, a visitor to Zion's backcountry will be interrupted by a man-made sound. That's a problem Zion officials are determined to solve.
In the park's busier "frontcountry" areas, the goal is to reduce noise in part by changing the way park employees work, and the equipment that they use. For example, old-fashioned rakes could replace newfangled leaf blowers, and the park's motor pool will eventually be replaced with quieter vehicles.
Backcountry noise, primarily emanating from overhead aircraft, is more difficult to address. The park hopes to work with the Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies to adjust flight paths.
And sounds originating from outside the park pose special challenges, and will only be quelled through the voluntary cooperation of adjacent property owners, businesses, municipal officials and local organizations.
But it's an effort worth making, and an idea that park officials across the country should be quick to co-opt. Sound management of noise will help maintain the quality of our parks for generations to come.