December 12, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
Seaplanes, historically one of the few means of access to a spectacular national recreation area “ringed by mountains and glaciers” in Washington state, will keep flying under a National Park Service plan for the Ross Lake National Recreation Area near Seattle.
On Dec. 1, the National Park Service released its final General Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for the recreation area, which is part of the North Cascades National Park Service Complex. The plan puts forth the NPS vision and recreation-area management philosophy for the next 15 to 20 years.
AOPA expressed satisfaction with the final plan, which dropped previously proposed curtailments of the area’s tradition of seaplane access.
“We are pleased with the Final General Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, and believe that it is a good plan for continuing to improve relations among all users of the lake, the NPS, and the seaplane community,” said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of airports and state advocacy.
The recreation area “protects 116,798 acres of the Complex and includes three reservoirs: Ross Lake, Diablo Lake, and Gorge Lake—water gateways to more remote areas. Ringed by mountains and glaciers, most of Ross Lake NRA is designated wilderness and offers many outdoor recreation opportunities along the upper reaches of the Skagit River and between the north and south units of North Cascades National Park,” says the summary of the plan.
In September 2010, AOPA submitted formal comments on the draft plan after Pecoraro participated, along with the Washington Seaplane Pilots Association and other pilots groups, in meetings with the NPS on the alternatives being considered. Several plans—including the preferred alternative—proposed restricting seaplane access to Ross Lake and Diablo Lake in the recreation area. The lakes are the gateways to more remote parts of the recreation area.
Pecoraro, in an August 2010 letter, had described the restrictions as the equivalent of “swatting at a mosquito with a sledge hammer” in light of FAA guidance to pilots on friendly flight procedures over sensitive areas. When the final plan was published, the proposed restrictions were absent.
Pecoraro credits the active involvement of seaplane pilots regionally and nationwide who participated in the review process with helping to ensure that the traditional role of aviation access was recognized. “Local pilots made all the difference in explaining seaplane operations to NPS staff,” said Pecoraro.
Local area pilots also expressed satisfaction with the final plan.
“We were very impressed with the professionalism demonstrated by the personnel of the National Park Service and their sincere desire to understand our concerns and work out a fair comprise for all visitors,” said Washington Seaplane Pilots Association President Stephen Ratzlaff.
Other pilots’ organizations active in defense of seaplane access to Ross Lake included the Recreational Aviation Foundation, the Seaplane Pilots Association, the Columbia Seaplane Pilots Association, and the Washington Pilots Association.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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