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Quiet in the Canyon!

The Interior Department is calling for quiet. As part of an overall strategy designed eventually to keep even cars from entering the Grand Canyon and some other national parks, the department recently announced new restrictions on flights by small aircraft and helicopters carrying tourists over the Canyon. In the immediate future, it also plans to block commercial aircraft tours over Rocky Mountain National Park.

Good for the Interior Department, and for park officials, who have long pushed for such a move. Quiet is part of the natural beauty of the parks, and curbing the number of aircraft flying overhead can help restore it.

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But such restrictions are only a first step. This week the entrance fee at the Grand Canyon and many other national parks will double to $20 per car. The goal is to make users pay a larger part of the annual national parks budget. Under the proposal, drivers eventually will be required to leave their cars altogether and take a bus or shuttle to popular sightseeing spots.

The need for change is obvious. During the peak summer months, about 27,000 people a day visit the Grand Canyon. Currently, about 6,000 cars enter the park each day, yet there are parking spaces for only 2,000. Environmentalists aren't the only ones who recognize the negative impact such heavy traffic can have on our wide-open spaces.

But few people are completely satisfied with the new plan, either. Air operators, not surprisingly, had threatened a lawsuit. Environmentalists say the restrictions don't go far enough. They'd prefer to see a cap on the number of flights, for instance, not just on the number of aircraft flying overhead. Still others worry that shuttle buses and higher fees will help turn a public, natural space into just another theme park.

We'd argue that national parks such as the Grand Canyon already are more like theme parks - at least in terms of crowds and noise - than they should be. A plan that keeps more planes from flying overhead and more cars from driving through gets our vote.

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