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Protecting National Park Soundscapes (2013)

Chapter: 6 Reflections on the Workshop

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Suggested Citation:"6 Reflections on the Workshop." National Academy of Engineering. 2013. Protecting National Park Soundscapes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18336.


Reflections on the Workshop

In the final session of the workshop, participants identified cost-effective actions that can be taken to reduce noise in the national parks:

  • Improve maintenance of park equipment, such as the repair or replacement of noisy mufflers.
  • Move idling buses to a location where the noise they generate is shielded.
  • Educate park personnel to minimize their use of noisy equipment.
  • Create an inventory database of equipment, with associated noise levels, to help park personnel determine which equipment to repair or replace first.
  • Amend purchase guidelines for new park equipment.
  • Establish a policy to reduce road noise as roads in the parks are repaved.
  • Monitor noise levels in parks to establish baselines and the extent to which they are exceeded.
  • Develop and/or apply other sound metrics to quantifying park soundscapes.
  • Draft noise control specifications to serve as guidelines in contracts.
  • Provide training for park resource managers on soundscape awareness so that they have the tools and information they need to take action.
  • Use past and future surveys of park superintendents to help identify noise problems and potential solutions in each park.
  • Have park managers sit down and listen to the noises generated in their parks to build awareness of what and where the problems are.
Suggested Citation:"6 Reflections on the Workshop." National Academy of Engineering. 2013. Protecting National Park Soundscapes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18336.
  • Establish a single person in each park who is responsible for protection of the soundscape.
  • Involve concessionaires in noise reduction since they are a vital component of operations in many parks.
  • Establish quiet zones and quiet times to raise awareness of noise issues among park visitors.
  • Inform visitors who enter parks with loud vehicles of the parks’ desire to limit noise.
  • Forge a partnership with the Institute of Noise Control Engineering of the USA (INCE/USA) to bring expertise to bear on noise problems in the parks, perhaps through an INCE/USA technical committee or sessions at INCE’s annual meetings.

Trevino acknowledged that the Park Service needs to lead by example in regulating noise in the parks. Others commended the Park Service for steps it is already taking to reduce noise and its mandate to protect visitors’ enjoyment of the parks. One participant suggested action on noise from snowplows since the noise can be heard from 10 miles away when the machines operate above treeline.

In terms of the feasibility and desirability of a noise restriction on people coming into national parks, participants observed that some groups and individuals may resist—such as motorcycle groups that favor modified (i.e., louder) exhaust systems. But such a restriction would nonetheless significantly reduce noise in the parks. Trevino noted that states have begun to adopt noise restrictions on motorcycles, but she also pointed out that many people urge advocacy in the parks on noise levels ahead of regulation. For instance, sound levels from motorcycles have been recorded and measured to help make motorcycle riders aware of the noise they generate. This approach can be applied to all vehicles, not just motorcycles.

Finally, workshop participants expressed interest in a continuing forum for review of noise issues and policies, to extend the deliberations of the workshop and continue to lay the groundwork for reducing noise in the national parks.

Trevino and Turina expressed their thanks to workshop participants and said they would begin to develop an implementation plan the next day. Showing that the benefits of noise mitigation can extend to actual cost savings for parks and for the Park Service will be critical, they said.

Suggested Citation:"6 Reflections on the Workshop." National Academy of Engineering. 2013. Protecting National Park Soundscapes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18336.
Page 34
Suggested Citation:"6 Reflections on the Workshop." National Academy of Engineering. 2013. Protecting National Park Soundscapes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18336.
Page 35
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America's national parks provide a wealth of experiences to millions of people every year. What visitors see—landscapes, wildlife, cultural activities—often lingers in memory for life. And what they hear adds a dimension that sight alone cannot provide. Natural sounds can dramatically enhance visitors' experience of many aspects of park environments. In some settings, such as the expanses of Yellowstone National Park, they can even be the best way to enjoy wildlife, because animals can be heard at much greater distances than they can be seen. Sounds can also be a natural complement to natural scenes, whether the rush of water over a rocky streambed or a ranger's explanation of a park's history. In other settings, such as the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, sounds are the main reason for visiting a park.

The acoustical environment is also important to the well-being of the parks themselves. Many species of wildlife depend on their hearing to find prey or avoid predators. If they cannot hear, their survival is jeopardized—and the parks where they live may in turn lose part of their natural heritage. For all these reasons it is important to be aware of noise (defined as unwanted sound, and in this case usually generated by humans or machinery), which can degrade the acoustical environment, or soundscape, of parks. Just as smog smudges the visual horizon, noise obscures the listening horizon for both visitors and wildlife. This is especially true in places, such as remote wilderness areas, where extremely low sound levels are common. The National Park Service (NPS) has determined that park facilities, operations, and maintenance activities produce a substantial portion of noise in national parks and thus recognizes the need to provide park managers with guidance for protecting the natural soundscape from such noise. Therefore, the focus of the workshop was to define what park managers can do to control noise from facilities, operations, and maintenance, and not on issues such as the effects of noise on wildlife, noise metrics, and related topics.

To aid in this effort, NPS joined with the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and with the US Department of Transportation's John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center to hold a workshop to examine the challenges and opportunities facing the nation's array of parks. Entitled "Protecting National Park Soundscapes: Best Available Technologies and Practices for Reducing Park- Generated Noise," the workshop took place October 3-4, 2012, at NPS's Natural Resource Program Center in Fort Collins, Colorado. Protecting National Park Soundscapes is a summary of the workshop.


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