Personal Watercraft Banned in All National Parks


Michael Johnsen

Personal watercraft, small vessels that generally seat one or two riders, are to be banned in all national parks and recreation areas by Sept. 15, 2002, unless the U.S. Park Service can prove the machines don't harm the environment on a park-by-park basis. Personal watercraft are already banned from 66 of the 87 parks, recreational areas and seashores where motorized boats are allowed The settlement of a case accepted by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler affects the remaining 21.

Watercraft manufacturers and vendors challenged an agreement negotiated in December, 2000, by the Interior Department and the Bluewater Network, a San Francisco-based environmental group. The Bush administration endorsed the accord.

"This Jet Ski settlement is great news for the national parks," said Sean Smith, spokesman for Bluewater Network, which had sued the National Park Service. "It will better protect the visiting public as well as park resources and wildlife from these noisy, smelly and dangerous machines."

Last year, the Park Service banned them from two-thirds of the national parks and Bluewater Network filed a federal lawsuit to extend the ban to the remaining areas. The Park Service agreed that each of the sites will be added to a list of personal watercraft-free zones in two years unless it can be shown the boats are harmless.

The Personal Watercraft Industry Association and the American Watercraft Association tried unsuccessfully to intervene. They argue that personal watercraft pollute less and are more maneuverable than motorboats, and that the nation's 1.2 million watercraft owners have a right to use public waterways. Opponents point to the lack of training and licensing for operating the craft, as well as the high level of noise pollution generated by the less-efficient engines closer to the shore.

Monita Fontaine, the industry association's director, said she was disappointed but still expected to get personal watercraft, which cost an average of $7,000, approved for use in the parks based on new technology that reduces noise and emissions. Over the past three years, she said, the two-stroke outboard motors used in the boats have reduced their hydrocarbon emissions by 75 percent and their noise by 70 percent.

"If there is evidence that there is a substantial impact on the environment from Jet Ski use, they have the right to ban them," she said. "However, we believe that we will be able to pass any environmental assessment."

Fontaine did not address the safety concerns.

Parks Affected By The Ruling:

* Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Arizona, Utah)

* Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Arizona, Nevada)

* Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (California)

* Curecanti National Recreation Area (Colorado)

* Cumberland Island National Seashore (Georgia)

* Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida, Mississippi)

* Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (Indiana)

* Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts)

* Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland/Virginia)

* Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Michigan)

* Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (Montana)

* Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)


* Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (New Jersey,Pennsylvania)

* Fire Island National Seashore (New York)

* Gateway National Recreation Area (New York, New Jersey)

* Chickasaw National Recreation Area (Oklahoma)

* Amistad National Recreation Area (Texas)

* Lake Meredith National Recreation Area (Texas)

* Padre Island National Seashore (Texas)

* Big Thicket National Preserve (Texas)

* Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area (Washington)