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Mountain News: Heli tours drown quietude



COLUMBIA FALLS, Mont. — Commercial air tours are banned over just one national park in the western United States, and that's Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Congress enacted the ban in 1998 in response to a push by the League of Women Voters in nearby Estes Park.

But in Montana, there's still plenty of whoof-whoof-whoof over Glacier National Park during the peak season, reported the Hungry Horse News. A 1998 plan for Glacier called for a "phase-out of commercial" air tours over the park but it was never implemented. In fact, the numbers have increased, to 500 per month in summer.

The National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, and others are calling for an end to the "incessant noise pollution" produced by the helicopters.

One helicopter tour operator told the newspaper he's heard it all before and is unimpressed. "When they ban Harleys (motorcycles), then I'll talk to them," said Jim Kruger. "Fifteen seconds after I'm gone, you'll never know I'm there."

Monolingual justice in a bi-lingual town

JACKSON, Wyo. — Justice doesn't speak Spanish in Teton County, according to the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Roughly 20 per cent of people charged with crimes in the town of Jackson are Latino residents, and a large percentage of them don't speak English or do not speak it well. In the judicial system of Teton County, just five people speak Spanish fluently, and none of them are legally allowed to interpret in court proceedings.

In 2013, the Wyoming Supreme Court created a translator program, including a registry of approved translators able to pass Wyoming's test. The position in Teton County is currently vacant.

Mountain bikes spiked

DENVER, Colo – From spikes being placed in trails in Colorado to sabotage in British Columbia, mountain bikes have been in the news across western North America.

In Colorado, the Denver Post reported that bikers on trails in the foothills southwest of the city found a long nail sticking out of the dirt.

"They tried to pry it up but it was mounted in a concrete brick. More riders on the trail that day reported flats," the newspaper said. Two mountain bikers uncovered three one-kilogram bricks that had been formed around eight-centimetre nails and buried in the middle of a 1.6-kilometre span of Little Squiggly Trail.

What astounded the biker who discovered the sabotage is that mountain bikers built the 14.5 kilograms of carefully sculpted singletrack. In other words, the bikers considered it their trail to begin with.

The Post noted other instances of sabotage, including one in British Columbia. In January, a 64-year-old woman was convicted of criminal mischief and sentenced to probation and community service after wildlife cameras caught her dragging tree limbs across trails in North Vancouver. The trail had been built by bike riders.

Smartphone app to let you know lightning risk

SILVERTHORNE, Colo. — A meteorologist is hoping that he has a better idea for mountain hikers venturing to summit high peaks where they are more vulnerable to lightning.

Joel Gratz is developing a smartphone application that will attempt to pinpoint when the risk of lightning will begin on Colorado's 54 peaks that are 4,300 metres or taller. The app will estimate when a hiker should turn around, based on the route and his or her hiking speed.

The Summit Daily News said Gratz hopes to release the app for the iPhone early this summer and later an Android version. He's using the name TrailForecast.

"Not every cloud that pops up over a mountain in the summer is out to hurt you," said Gratz at a recent forum. "But some are. So we're trying to figure out, one, how can we forecast that in advance, and, two, how can we help you diagnose that when you're above treeline? There is no way to travel 100 per cent safely in the backcountry during lightning, but you can reduce your risk."

The app will be most accurate in the 24 to 48 hours before a hike, but it will be missing the real-time component. Gratz hopes that Google or some other tech company will create a database that will make this possible.

Letting cars tell others about conditions on I-70

IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. — Twenty years ago, highway engineers were saying that someday sensors installed in pavement would provide more real-time understanding of road conditions, both for drivers and road-maintenance crews.

That time has arrived on the Interstate 70 corridor between Denver and the mountain resorts of Colorado. The Glenwood Springs Post Independent reported that 15 friction sensors in the highway have been augmented by an additional 30. These sensors, the newspaper explained, assess the grit of the roadway. If there is slickness, the Colorado Department of Transportation can send equipment or take other actions.

As it prepares for the era of autonomous vehicles, C-DOT is also deploying automated crowdsourcing to provide more real-time information about road conditions. There are now 200 sensors on vehicles, some of them belonging to C-DOT and others of drivers who travel I-70 frequently. The sensors detect traffic incidents and assess road conditions.

The data is sent via existing cellular networks to an information cloud site, which validates the information. The results can then be distributed immediately to nearby vehicles. Simultaneously, the results can be sent to a traffic management centre, which can react to upcoming situations in real time.

In this new deployment, C-DOT is partnering with HERE, a company co-owned by the German automakers Audi, BMW and Daimler. This is the first deployment of the vehicle-to-infrastructure project over a cellular network in North America. The concept has been previously deployed in Finland.