Park Service decrees fewer Jet Skis this summer

Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Vacationers looking to skim across the water on Jet Skis may find a problem this summer in some national parks or seashores as the government imposes new restrictions on the popular watercraft.

The National Park Service announced Tuesday it would prohibit use of Jet Skis in dozens of federal parks, recreational areas and seashores, although the craft still would be welcome at 21 recreational areas where they already are widely used.

Environmentalists and conservation groups criticized the park service for not banning the motorized water craft outright, arguing that they pollute the water and disturb the tranquility of parks with their noise, as well as pose safety hazards.

Park Service Director Robert Stanton acknowledged the agency was trying to find a middle ground on an issue over which the agency has grappled for four years.

He said the regulation, which goes into effect April 20, was a ''prudent approach'' that will allow some use of the watercraft ''yet protects park values ... and reduces conflicts with park visitors who seek solitude and traditional recreational activities.''

The ban won't change much in Alaska. Few people use Jet Skis in Alaska's national parks, said John Quinley, National Park Service spokesman.

''We're not shutting out a significant activity,'' Quinley said. ''We're stopping it before it starts.''

Quinley said Kenai Fjords National Park is one of the few parks in Alaska where people have been riding Jet Skis. They have also occasionally been spotted on the Kobuk and Noatak rivers in Noatak National Preserve and Kobuk Valley National Park.

Just the same, the rule angered some Alaskans who see it as part of trend to exclude motorized traffic on public lands.

''It happens one step at a time,'' said Jim Wilke, owner of Alaska Power Sports, an Anchorage store that sells personal watercraft, snowmachines and all-terrain vehicles. ''This year, they'll ban Jet Skis. Next year they'll get rid of all powered boats. Pretty soon no one is there. The land is not worth 20 cents unless people use it.''

The Park Service said the watercraft would not be allowed in 66 of the 87 parks, recreational areas and seashores where motorized boats are allowed. While many of the 66 park system units have little or no Jet Ski activities, the Park Service said there has been growing use of the craft in at least 32 of the park areas.

At the same time, the service said Jet Skis would continue to be allowed -- unless the local superintendent decides otherwise -- at 10 national recreational areas where water-related recreation has been ''a primary purpose'' since their creation. These included a number of man-made lakes such as Glen Canyon along the Arizona-Utah line, where tens of thousands of boaters go for water recreation, and Lake Mead in Arizona and Nevada.

At 11 other areas, mostly federal seashores, Jet Skis would continue to be allowed during a two-year ''grace period'' during which local park officials could decide whether to seek special approval for their continued use.

At all other places the craft will be banned, unless approval is given by the Washington headquarters as part of a formal rulemaking, the agency said.

The new policy, in the works since 1996, did not satisfy conservation and park advocacy groups. They accused the park service of placating the watercraft's users. According to industry, there were 106,000 of the craft bought last year, with an estimated 1.2 million Jet Skis or similar watercraft in use in the country.

''The Park Service has admitted that Jet Skis pollute the air and water, harass wildlife and interfere with other visitors. Yet they still propose to allow most use to continue,'' complained Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks and Conservation Association, a private park advocacy group.

Russell Long, director of Blue Water Network, a group that seeks to protect seashore areas, said the agency ''is ignoring the damage ... and destruction'' from Jet Skis.

But the Personal Watercraft Industry Association complained as well.

Larry Lambrose, the association's executive director, said the ban was too broad and that even at the places given the two-year grace period, local park officials could impose a ban. He disputed assertions that the craft pose environmental or safety problems and said in newer models, noise and pollution have been reduced significantly.


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