Keeping America Beautiful (and Quiet)

July  3,  2012 / By Justin Nicolette

National parks go hand-in-hand with motorcycles. After all, riding is about the journey – and the journey through a twisty-road-laced park with stunning unobstructed views is one to which many others pale by comparison.  But, as in life, not everyone appreciates the same things, and that goes especially for loud pipes in public.

A pair of Harleys depart a pull out in the Mount Rainier National Forest

Last week, I caught a piece on NPR about motorcycles and national parks that piqued my interest (disclaimer: hi, my name is Justin and I ride a Harley). You can read (or listen to) the piece here, but the long and the short of it is that the National Park Service (NPS) is now investigating the impact of noise created by motorcycles – specifically, those with modified pipes – on national parks’ ecosystems.

The NPR piece goes on to mention how motorcycles are a large portion of noise pollution in these particular environments, and it states the NPS has received numerous complaints from patrons and park employees. So many, in fact, that the NPS is now collecting audio samples at more than 70 national parks to investigate the impact.

“They’re trying to get a handle on just how noise polluted the parks are. They found that motorcycles can sometimes be heard up to 18 miles away. That noise can make it harder for animals to hear predators or listen for prey. Elk and songbirds have trouble finding mates.”

The NPS isn’t the only group that takes issue with loud pipes in national parks.  Check out these articles:

  • This one is from the National Parks Traveler Magazine (2009) and discusses the NPS’s preparation for the influx of riders brought by the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally to Mount Rushmore (a very popular destination for riders during the rally). The first comment to the article brings up noise from motorcycles and the argument progresses from there.
  • This article is more of a local POV from Knoxville, Tenn., a town near The Tail of The Dragon (another iconic motorcycle ride) and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The author penned this article near the time that a Harley Owners Group rally had taken place. Again, the comments section is where the conversation is most heated, with statements about banning loud motorcycles in this type of public area. One commenter actually suggests banning all private motor vehicles and using shuttle buses is the way to go.  This article begs to differ that approach.

In my opinion, motorcycles (or any private vehicles, for that matter) won’t be banned from national parks – at least, not anytime soon, because they bring in much needed revenue for the under-funded, struggling NPS organization.

Aiding the more than 275 million visitors per year, groups like Eagle Rider, a motorcycle tourism company specializing in motorcycle rentals, and the Moab Area Travel Council – among many others – offer national parks-specific tours and openly promote suggested motorcycle trips to riders so we can combine our passion of riding with the enjoyment of the nearly 400 federally maintained public lands. The United States Geological Survey even offers an annual pass that provides access to the hundreds of national parks across the country specifically referencing motorcycles in its usage rules.

An act to ban motorcycles (or certain modified equipment used by riders) from the parks would certainly be met with opposition, much like that of the recent push for motorcycle-only check points and ongoing debates about mandated helmet laws. Simply put, a ban would be viewed by the motorcycle community as an infringement on riders’ rights and that’s not a fight the NPS wants to get into.

What do you think? Should motorcycles (or other modes of private transportation) be banned from national parks?

Photo Credit: Michael B.

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