Soundscaping in Zion National Park

Soundscaping in Zion National Park

Acoustics are increasingly entering the sphere of experience design. Not only in shopping malls or restaurants, but also in open air facilities such as national parks. Zion National Park, Utah, has since 2008 recorded sounds as part of a monitoring program. From natural sounds such as the cicadas’ symphonies and tickling streams to man-made sounds such as helicopters. The monitoring was undertaken in order to help park staff to minimize sounds that disturb the visitor experience. The monitoring takes place from solar-powered stations. Its purpose is to protect attributes of sound — and the lack of it — for the benefit of the wildlife and the nearly 3 million annual visitors to the park.

The philosophy is than an area’s soundscape is as valuable as air quality and watershed although, unlike those resources, it is intangible. However, a scientific approach gives the plan objectivity and credibility.

Human-caused sounds particularly affect wildlife, and awareness of this issue is being spread. In the entrance areas and locations of public facilities the goal is to reduce noise through changing employee activities and technology. That can range from something as simple as using rakes and brooms instead of leaf blowers, to using technology that reduces noise when replacing shuttles and park vehicles.

Surveys have shown that 90 percent of people who visit the national parks want natural peace and to be able to hear the sounds of nature. The acoustics will become a more important interpretive element. People who get out of the big cities will be given additional experience by learning to appreciate the rustling of the wind to even insects moving through leaves.

The academic field – “acoustics ecology”, is gaining importance. It aims at understanding the nature and importance of sounds and the instruments to protect and prevent soundscapes. Seeing sound as a resource is a new way of thinking which is leading to significant innovation in  terms of developing tourism experiences.

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