By D. Randy Leggett
First printed in Hang Gliding Magazine, November 2001
A window of opportunity is open for the next four months. Not to actually fly there now, but to add these and other potential sites that you dream of soaring to a list of Parks that the National Park Service will review and deem as "flight appropriate".
Flying from our vast public lands has long been a dream of many, but a reality for only a few. A small group of these dreamers began a grass roots effort to ease the burden of gaining flight access to our public lands. Over the past few years, the effort has gained significant momentum, and the USHPA Site Committee has been called upon to assume responsibility for coordinating these efforts at the National level. The initial broad effort encompassed all federal land management agencies. However, during our meetings with representatives of the Department of the Interior in Washington, the effort was refocused first to the National Park Service.
The NPS has agreed to help us streamline the flight authorization process with a single broad rule concept covering many National parks of our own choosing. If passed, this rule will make it easier for managers of these parks to say 'yes' instead of 'no' by eliminating the existing park-by-park regulatory burden. It will also be a step toward HG & PG being treated as a traditional and accepted use of Federal lands.
Our current task is to review all of our National Park lands and to formulate a list of Parks that we consider to be "Flight Appropriate". These Parks will then be reviewed by the NPS and if found appropriate will be included in an NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) that will apply to all listed Parks.
This input from the hang gliding community is critical, as it will affect the future of site acquisition and preservation in the Federal land-management system with likely spillover to state and local public lands. Even if you don't know of a dream launch or landing area in a National Park today, please consider the future. If adopted, this new rule will lessen the time and effort needed to open sites in these parks. If we overlook a flight-appropriate park now, the approval process for that park will likely be harder later on.
The Regulations Program at the NPS will be reviewing the list of "Flight Appropriate National Parks" and drafting the rule beginning in April of 2002. It has taken three years of struggling with the NPS to get this time slot on their agenda. Once the proposed rule has been written and published for public comment we will be called to action in the form of a letter writing campaign in support of this rule.
If and when adopted this NPRM will become a single Special Use Regulation applying to all listed parks. However, some individual parks may still require permits. The permitting process (where necessary) will be standardized nationwide with what we hope will be a reasonable set of guidelines developed by USHPA, adapted to local requirements by the local chapter and adopted by the NPS. This standardization process is currently under development in the USHPA Site Committee.
Most of us know of National Parks where we should be flying or have flown in the past which have since been closed to flying. Many of these are in our own back yards. Contact us and let us know about them. If you are currently operating in a National Park let us know that as well (including whether or not you have Regulations or permits).
While this is a long-term project that may take a year or more to even gauge our likelihood of success, your immediate support and response is essential to the final outcome. The minute it requires now could save you years of effort in the future.