How annoying is noise in national parks?

National parks are supposed to be refuges from the bustle and ruckus of everyday life. But road noise and chatter from tourists are threatening to disrupt these serene spots, a new study suggests.

The researchers analyzed the “soundscape” at Peñalara National Park and the surrounding area in Spain’s Lozoya valley. The area is not exactly pristine; a road used by about 850 vehicles per day runs through it, and planes sometimes fly overhead. One of the hiking trails, called the Water Pathway, runs from the visitors center through a forest to a glacier lagoon, and about 70,000 people use it each year.

In 2011 and 2012, the study authors monitored sounds at two points close to the trail, collecting a total of about 90 minutes of audio. They also surveyed 327 tourists to find out which noises they had heard during their visits and whether they had found the sounds annoying. People also were asked whether they would be willing to pay for a program to make the park quieter.

The researchers’ equipment picked up the sounds of shouting, car horns, planes, and motorcycles, according to their report in Landscape and Urban Planning. About half the visitors said they heard other people talking, 42 percent heard planes flying overhead, and roughly one-fifth heard cell phones or dogs. On the annoyance scale, “[v]isitors’ voices and conversations were as great of a nuisance to themselves as were aircraft overflights and road traffic,” the authors note. The tourists heard motorcycles less frequently but considered them the most irritating.

“This work reveals that noise pollution is indiscriminately impacting nature soundscapes” at the park, the team concludes. But parks don’t have to be loud. Managers could reduce noise by controlling traffic, covering roads with different surfaces, or erecting sound barriers. Visitors said they wouldn’t mind paying a roughly 1-euro entrance fee to support such a program. Roberta Kwok | 16 January 2014

Source: Iglesias Merchan, C., L. Diaz-Balteiro, and M. Soliño. 2014. Noise pollution in national parks: Soundscape and economic valuation. Landscape and Urban Planning doi: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2013.11.006.

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