The Hear Our Olympics campaign seeks to protect the natural sounds of Olympic National Park, a rare refuge from noise pollution in the Northwest.

The wild Olympic Peninsula is like nowhere else. It has been recognized as a national park, a wilderness area, an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. It is also the most popular national park in the Northwest, with more than 3 million visitors in 2015 alone. Even with this high visitation, the park provides a rare refuge from noise pollution with its oasis of natural quiet.

According to sound technician Gordon Hempton, who has spent decades researching noise pollution and making recordings of natural sounds throughout the United States, the Olympic Peninsula is “the most acoustically diverse” and “least noise-polluted” place in the Lower 48 states. Whether you love the crash of the ocean surf, the bugling of Roosevelt elk or the whistling of marmots in high mountain meadows, Olympic is a peaceful and accessible place where you can actually hear the beauty of nature in all its diversity.

Yet, this rare and distinctive soundscape is threatened by new and unnatural noises.

NPCA is calling on the National Park Service to help protect the peace at Olympic by designating it as one of the country’s first certified Quiet Parks.

This distinction will help recognize the significance of Olympic’s soundscape, improve the agency’s internal operations to better preserve the quiet, and represent a critical step toward fighting noise pollution on a larger scale.

Why it’s important: A new threat to the quiet

Olympic Naval airspace map
Click to enlarge. camera icon Map © Mark Nowlin/The Seattle Times.

As remote as the Olympic Peninsula is, it is within minutes of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, which has served as a military airbase since World War II. The Navy has recently based more than 80 EA-18G Growler jets at Whidbey Island, with more planned. These aircraft are called Growlers because of the deep, cacophonous roar their powerful engines make. In a 2009 report on jet engine noise reduction, the U.S. Naval Research Advisory Committee identified Growlers as some of the loudest aircraft in the skies. When flying overhead, Growlers can create sounds loud enough to damage the hearing of people nearby. In fact, the Navy has identified hearing loss as the top occupational health hazard for its workforce.

The Navy has proposed increasing fighter jet training over and around Olympic National Park. This would not only include the use of Growler aircraft, but it would also involve parking trucks at up to 15 sites on surrounding roads to broadcast electromagnetic signals to these warplanes.

Olympic airspace is a choice, not a necessity

If the Navy conducts increased fighter jet training over the peninsula, it would affect some of the most popular wilderness areas, trails and visitor centers at Olympic National Park, including the Hoh Rain Forest and wild beaches.

This is not the only place available to the Navy, but it’s the closest to their runways on Whidbey Island. Currently the Navy does similar training at Mountain Home Air Force Base in southern Idaho, which is not far away for a fighter jet. There are other airbases and military airspace available, too. According to the Navy’s own analysis, using the Olympic region is a convenience and not essential for its training needs.

Save the sounds of the Olympic Peninsula

NPCA recognizes Olympic National Park and its wild surroundings as a unique part of America’s natural heritage. The park is a sanctuary, offering peace, solitude and the opportunity to enjoy rare quiet and the sounds of nature.

NPCA is encouraging the National Park Service to designate Olympic National Park as a certified Quiet Park to help preserve its wild character and rare soundscape.

The National Park Service’s Quiet Parks Program provides management tools and resources for monitoring and reducing noise pollution. This special designation will bring us one step closer to making sure one of the Northwest’s most beloved natural gems is protected for generations to come.

Effort-to-date

  • More than 1,200 Urged the Forest Service to Protect Olympic Soundscape

    Jan 2017

    National park advocates asked the U.S. Forest Service to deny the Navy's permit to expand noisy military jet training over Olympic's quietest places.

  • Nearly 1,200 Took Action for Quiet Park Designation

    May 2017

    Park advocates sent more than a thousand messages to Olympic Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum encouraging her to work toward a "Quiet Park" designation for Olympic National Park.

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