Making a Difference

A father and son sit quietly on a bench and reflect on their serene park surroundings.
A father and son sit on a bench and quietly observe the park surroundings.

NPS

With just one small change, you can make a dramatic difference to a park's soundscape. Imagine talking a little quieter the next time you visit a national park. Then imagine all the other visitors doing the same. That alone will greatly improve a soundscape. After numerous noise complaints, researchers at Muir Woods National Monument asked visitors to be quieter (i.e., talk quietly, turn off cell phones) in one zone of the park (see image below). The result was amazing. The sound level in that zone decreased by 3 dBA, which equates to a reduction of approximately 1200 people (Stack et al., 2011). Remember, no people were actually limited from entering the zone, they were simply asked to be a little quieter. Now imagine what great things you can do to protect and improve soundscapes!

By taking steps to protect park soundscapes, we can hear and see more of our parks, including wildlife that might otherwise move away from noise sources. Here are a few simple steps for getting started. Many of these suggestions will also help protect and improve the soundscape in your everyday life, outside of national park settings.

Sign that says, "Cathedral Grove has been declared a QUIET ZONE today! What you can do to help: 1. Talk quietly  2. Turn off cell phones  3. Encourage children to walk quietly   Enjoy Nature's Sounds in Cathedral Grove."
Quiet Zone sign This sign was used during a study at Muir Woods National Monument in California to research how the declaration of a quiet zone may affect sound levels.

NPS Photo.

Minimize Your Noise Footprint

  • Be aware that the noise you make could affect other visitors. Speak softly when having conversations, especially on hiking trails and at campsites. Encourage friends and family to do the same.
  • Be considerate of campground quiet hours.
  • Look for mute options on electronic equipment such as cell phones, watches, or cameras.
  • Turn off cell phones and/or avoid using speakerphone.
  • Consider leaving personal music devices in the car or at home.
  • Avoid using external speakers that others can hear.
  • Participate in non-motorized recreational activities (i.e., hiking, bird-watching, snowshoeing, canoeing)

Enjoy a Quieter Ride

  • Turn off car alarms and disable sounds on electronic door locks (check your vehicle owner's manual on how to do this).
  • Use alternative transportation such as shuttles.
  • Turn off vehicle engines when stopped at wildlife traffic jams, train crossings, overlooks, or roadside pullouts. Idling vehicles create unnecessary noise and smog.
  • Keep car radio volume at a low level to avoid disturbing other visitors.
  • Turn off radios and open windows to hear interesting park sounds.
  • Drive at posted speed limits (driving faster creates more noise).
  • Don't rev it up! Ride motorcycles respectfully in parks.

Plan for the Future

  • Reduce unwanted exhaust noise by replacing faulty mufflers or installing quieter models.
  • Check for Environmental Protection Agency noise certifications, especially for motorcycle exhaust systems.
  • To achieve a more pleasant ride and a quiet environment, install quiet tire models. Check tire noise ratings at Consumer Reports.
  • Rent a hybrid vehicle while on vacation.
  • Reduce and repair vehicle rattles and other problems that cause excessive noise.

What You Can Do At Home

  • When possible, use non-motorized tools for yard work (e.g., rakes instead of leaf blowers).
  • Consider noise when purchasing home appliances and yard equipment (manufacturers typically provide sound level information in product manuals).
  • Be considerate of neighbors when operating motorized equipment.
  • Use mass transportation.
  • Join a carpool or ride your bike to work.
Check out these other ways to enhance your soundscape experience.

Reference
Stack, D. W., Newman, P., Manning, R. E., & Fristrup, K. M. (2011). Reducing visitor noise levels at Muir Woods National Monument using experimental management.Journal of Acoustical Society of America, 129(3), 1375-1380.