Boom City : Follow-Up

prarie dogs : US Fish and Wildlife Service PhotoI spoke on the phone this morning with Christine Czazasty, the Chief of Interpretation at Devils Tower National Monument. She was able to clarify a few things for me about the Biker Rally happening this week in Sturgis and its impact on the park. She told me that motorcycle traffic in the park is concentrated on one particular day, Wednesday. That is the day that the nearby town of Hulett holds its "Ham 'n Jam" festival (event details: Party in the streets, NO CONTAINER LAWS. Camping close by. Come early and avoid the traffic jams.). On that day, the park will have more than 3000 motorcycles roaring through. In 2004 the park set its single day motorcycle visitation record with 3346, only to have a new record set in 2005 with 3550 bikes.

That single day is when the upper parking lot is open only to motorcycle traffic. Everyone else parks in the gravel overflow lot, and there is no shuttle service (I was wrong about this in yesterdays post). Christine told me that the park has received terrific help on this single day event each year from the Christian Motorcyclists Association. This group of volunteers keeps everyone on the right track and helps coordinate a smooth day.

I had asked Christine if she was aware of any study to measure the noise impact from this single day event, and she said she was not aware of one. As mentioned yesterday, I am curious to know a) if there is a significant increase in noise on this day, b) if there is, what is the impact to the natural soundscape and impact on the lives of the cute little prairie dogs. She did tell me that this year the park has put in a test speed bump on the section of road next to the prairie dog town. These critters are cute, but they are dumb. If they are in the road they don't know enough to get out of the way of approaching cars. So, to help preserve the lives of these little ones, the speed bump may help slow the traffic through this sensitive area. If the test goes well this year, they may add an additional speed bump next year as a permanent feature on the road.

The other big event at Devils Tower this year is the celebration of the Monuments 100 year anniversary. The Centennial Committee has planned five big events over the summer, three of which are now complete. So, if you'd like to get in on the fun you can attend the American Indian Heritage Weekend on the weekend of August 25-27, 2006, where you can listen to one of my favorite traveling performers, Jack Gladstone, or catch artists carving flutes and pipes, or crafting blankets and moccasins. The last event of the summer is the Anniversary Celebration, September 22 - 24, 2006. I'm told that the keynote speaker on the 24th will be none other than Teddy Roosevelt the 4th. I'm sure it will be a fun event, I wish I could be there.
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Comments

Jeremy: I really don't think the low pitched rumble of motorcycles bothers wildlife at all, except for a few of us "wild" humans. It very quickly becomes background noise, doesn't increase predation, inhibit rain or decrease forage plant production, and it's pretty much all over in a week, and the bikes have to stay on the pavement, unlike snowmobiles or atvs. You might want to compare the damage done by biker noise during the rally to the damage done to the environment by the Lewis and Clark expedition, or even to the worthy Audubon, who did his level best to shoot a breeding pair of every bird species he saw.

This is a great site, and I really enjoy the articles and comment.

You are married to one of my favorite people in the world, and I have to tell you that I think she married well....
Hi Joe,

I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. Let me say first that I have no problem with the Sturgis Rally, or with motorcycles, or with the people that ride. Some of my favorite people ride motorcycles (father-in-law and brother-in-law for example). And, I am sure that the 3000 plus bikers that enter the park are there for the same reason as any other visitor any other time of the year, to enjoy the magnificent view, take some photos, and hike around a bit.

The basis for my questions about noise are based in-part on an old hydroplane race here in Seattle. There used to be a one-day event at Green Lake where smaller sized hydroplanes would race around. Those familiar with the area know that Green Lake is very close to the Woodland Park Zoo. Apparently the noise from this one race was found to have distressed the animals in the zoo. And so, the annual race was canceled. (I looked on the web for conformation of this, but only found a reference to angry residents asking for the racing ban, but my memory tells me there was a zoo connection).

I'm not saying that there *is* a connection between motorcycle noise and prairie dog distress, I just think it would at least be worth checking out. If you were to do a google search for "motorcycle noise", you'll find links with titles like "motorcycle noise poses hearing risk" and an American Motorcyclist Association statement on excessive motorcycle noise. I don't think a few motorcycles would affect the natural soundscape of the park, but the cumulative result of 3000+ bikes over the course of the day would probably make a difference. I tried to find on the web a simple formula for adding sound decibels together. The logarithmic math I found is a little more complex than I wanted to get into right now, but I think I am correct when I say 100 bikes are louder than 10 bikes running at the same time. I did find this link which has some decent animations of decibel math: http://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/n...

The other part of this question would be "so what?" If a connection were found, there could probably be very little done about it. The noise generated from motorcycles is a federally mandated standard. And, as you mention, where snowmobiles and atvs are not legal on the highways, motorcycles are. I would imagine that trying to restrict motorcycles, as a legal vehicle, from a federal park road would be a set-up for a battle in court. I'm not suggesting we go there, that would only serve to bring politics into the picture, and in that scenario no one seems to win.

It is entirely possible that the single day motorcycle event generates no more noise over the course of a day than does a large thunder storm. One way or the other, I'm just curious to know what the answer is.

I'm glad to know you've been reading the site Joe, we'll catch up sometime soon.

"The basis for my questions about noise are based in-part on an old hydroplane race here in Seattle. There used to be a one-day event at Green Lake where smaller sized hydroplanes would race around. Those familiar with the area know that Green Lake is very close to the Woodland Park Zoo. Apparently the noise from this one race was found to have distressed the animals in the zoo. And so, the annual race was canceled. (I looked on the web for conformation of this, but only found a reference to angry residents asking for the racing ban, but my memory tells me there was a zoo connection). "

I was at the Parks Board meeting where the zoo vet testified. He said that the animals noticed the noise, but it was not as loud as the daily roar of trucks on Aurora Ave. His recommendation was to race boats on Green Lake more than once a year and then the animals would not even notice.

Tod Petersen