Friday, March 23, 2012

Are US National Parks Now Too Noisy for Hikers?

As audio ecologist Gordon Hempton mentions in his book One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World, there are "snowmobiles roaring through Yellowstone, helicopters flying over Hawaii volcanoes, and air tours over the Grand Canyon." I agree that these are all annoying disruptions to the soul-recharging experience of wilderness. Too many times to count, while hiking around the summit of Maui's Haleakala or on Sierra Nevada backcountry trails, my serenity has been spoiled by noise pollution.

One of Hempton's recommendations is "to prohibit all aircraft from flying over our pristine national parks." Yet what national park can claim to be pristine? Recreational tourist development means that all parks by definition are already sullied. Even in the wilderness backcountry of Alaska's Denali National Park, as recently reported by the New York Times, it can be hard to find deep silence. Ranger Davyd Betchkal pointed out that when "a jet will go over...[it] breaks that flow of consciousness, that ecstatic moment" of being immersed in nature when you're traveling on foot.

To preserve America's last silent spaces and to stop the negative ecological effects of too much noise on wildlife, tourist overflights and other noise-making leisure pursuits should be severely curtailed in our national parks. In Hawaii's Haleakala National Park, for example, helicopters are allowed too near the summit area. At Grand Canyon National Park, helicopter and airplane tours are a nuisance to hikers and anyone else wishing to experience the solitude of the canyon. You can't ignore that air tours also leave a sizable carbon footprint on the environment.

Until more national parks start to restrict noise-polluting air and overland tours inside their boundaries, each one of us can help preserve America's last quiet places by voting with our tourist dollars. Skip the noise-making helicopter or plane tours next time you visit a national park, and strike out on foot instead. The wilderness, the wildlife and your fellow hikers will all thank you.

Got any tips for finding true silence on any of Hawaii's hiking trails? Let us know about your favorite spots by leaving a comment below!

Related posts:
Our National Parks: So Wild That You Should Sue?
NPR Interview: Hiking and Ecotourism in Hawaii
Saving Hawaiian Monk Seals: 4 Ways You Can Help

Photo credit: Haleakala National Park (Sara J. Benson)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hidden Hiking Trails in West Maui

Spring break means peak tourist season on Maui. That makes it key to find places where you can escape the crowds and be immersed in nature --  a lonely but beautiful beach, a remote rainforest waterfall or a hiking trail with no one on it.

On the west side of Maui, you don't have to be a guest of the Kapalua resort to set your boots on its groomed hiking trails. Kapalua's Coastal Trail, which stretches for 2 miles along prime beachfront, is always busy with walkers, runners and cavorting kids. But high in the hills above the golf course, the historical Maunalei Arboretum is practically deserted. Here gentle footpaths wind through shady groves planted with native and non-native arboreal species. Even kids will enjoy the 0.5-mile Lower Loop, or the 1-mile Banyan Loop that passes by those exotic gargantuan trees.

More of a cardio workout, the 1.25-mile Honolua Ridge Trail climbs from the arboretum's tangled maze of shorter trails to an impressive forest lookout. If you want a real adventure, follow the epic Mahana Ridge Trail another 6 miles downhill to the ocean, treating yourself to gorgeous views of Lanai along the way. When I hiked this trail, I didn't see another sunburned soul. A side loop through a sugi pine grove was a cool, shady relief, but the spur through overgrown pineapple fields was a bush-whacking waste of time. Still, this was one of the most memorable hikes I've done on Maui.

If you plan to do the entire 7-mile Honolua & Mahana Ridges route, wear shoes with good traction and bring plenty of water. When you get to the end of the trail at D.T. Fleming Beach Park, you'll need to march your muddy, sweaty self for another 10 minutes uphill through the grounds of the Ritz-Carlton hotel and back to the Kapalua Adventure Center. Prepare yourself for disapproving looks from resort guests by the pool.

The Kapalua resort provides a free shuttle service from the Kapalua Adventure Center, near the driving range and golf course, uphill to the arboretum a few times daily. Private vehicles are not allowed to access the arboretum or its trailheads. Make sure you sign a liability waiver and pick up a free hiking guide booklet [PDF] at the check-in desk inside the Kapalua Adventure Center before boarding the shuttle and hitting the trail.

Related posts:

Photo credits: West Maui (Michael Connolly, Jr.)