LAS VEGAS — The bitter feud over flights over the Grand Canyon has flared again with an air tour operator saying environmentalists believe the canyon is their private resort and a backpacker likening the chasm to a cathedral.
The sharp exchange came at the first of four hearings scheduled this week on six alternatives being considered by the National Park Service for controlling flights in and out of the canyon.
That hearing was Monday night in Las Vegas. A similar hearing was held Tuesday in San Francisco, and others are scheduled tonight in Phoenix and Thursday in Flagstaff.
The hearings are the latest in a 2 1/2-year war between environmentalists who want to hike the canyon in quiet and aircraft tour operators who fly hundreds of thousands of visitors in and out of the canyon annually.
The six alternatives proposed by the Park Service range from taking no action at all on the flights to limiting flights to 2,000 feet above the rim level. Flights into and out of the canyon currently have no restrictions.
"Five of the six plans take away from the fliers and none of the plans take away from the hikers," said John Seibold, president of Scenic Airlines, one of the major carriers for Grand Canyon flights.
Seibold said the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society should "stop pretending it (the canyon) is a private resort for their members."
Backpacker Mark Bird, one of two dozen people who testified Monday night, said people who hike into the Grand Canyon are having their experience ruined by noise. He called the canyon a cathedral where people can hear "the choir of nature."