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Glacier Park helicopter tours opposed by petitioners

Many Glacier Valley in Glacier National Park.  (Tim Rains / National Park Service)
Many Glacier Valley in Glacier National Park. (Tim Rains / National Park Service)

PUBLIC LANDS -- Anti-noise activists are rising in a chorus to oppose helicopter tours in Glacier National Park.

Mary T. McClelland last week released an open letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on behalf of Friends for a Quiet! Glacier Coalition, which calls for an end to scenic helicopter tours over the park by 2017.

According to a report by Missoulian writer Vince Devlin, the website is gathering signatures for a petition.

Following are excerpts from the Missoulian report:

“Glacier’s solitude has been shattered by hundreds of helicopter overflights,” McClelland’s letter says, “and the incessant noise pollution endured by wildlife and visitors is destroying what Glacier stands for – the pinnacle of natural beauty and tranquility.”

The people who run the helicopter tour companies – there are two based here in West Glacier – think the impact is vastly overstated.

“Fifteen seconds after we go over, you’d never know we were there,” says Jim Kruger, owner of Kruger Helicop-Tours. “When they ban Harley Davidson motorcycles, they can talk to me. Have you ever heard a group of them going up Going-to-the-Sun Road?”

McClelland’s letter says 30 years after noise pollution created by helicopter tours in Glacier was identified as a priority problem at congressional hearings, 17 years after it was listed as a critical issue in Glacier’s General Management Plan, and 16 years after passage of the National Parks Air Tour Management Act, nothing has changed.

“We still have no peace in Glacier,” McClelland says. “Today, more than 500 helicopters per month fly sorties over our nation’s only international peace park and World Heritage Site.”

Only one quarter of 1 percent of the 2.3 million people who visit Glacier each year take a helicopter tour, according to McClelland.

“More than 99 percent of the visiting public is adversely affected by the actions of an extreme few,” she adds. “Helicopter overflights are an inappropriate use, unless they are for rescue, research or necessary park administration. The small number of acoustic offenders is disproportionate to the large number of visitors and the wildlife that are adversely impacted.”

The helicopter tour companies say those “extreme few” include the elderly, and those with physical disabilities, who would not otherwise have the opportunity to see most of Glacier Park.

“They have as much of a right to see it as anybody else,” Kruger says.

McClelland argues that Going-to-the-Sun Road gives those visitors the opportunity to experience the park.

“Anyone who can get into a car or a bus or a boat can see Glacier,” she says. “Anyone who can’t access those options won’t be able to get into a helicopter, either.”

The conveniently located helicopters and their pilots also provide quick aid in search and rescue and wildfire fighting efforts, tour operators point out. They say the helicopters won’t be sitting at the ready, a short distance from the park boundary, if they’re banned from showing paying visitors Glacier from the air.


Friends for a Quiet! Glacier Coalition “is not an organization in and of itself,” McClelland says, but is a group of people and organizations that have expressed similar concerns with noise pollution in Glacier.

According to McClelland, they include the Sierra Club, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the National Park Conservation Association, Wilderness Watch, the Swan View Coalition, Friends of the Wild Swan, the Montana Ecosystems Defense Council, the North Fork Preservation Association and Headwaters Montana.

McClelland says she grew up in Glacier, the daughter of parents who worked for the National Park Service, and splits her time between Illinois and Montana.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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