Recent debates about ATV trails in Zaleski State Forest and about whether to lift horsepower restrictions for boats on Forked Run Lake have resulted in a lot of noise about … well, about noise.

It’s a truism that in the struggle between silence and noise, noise wins every time. Garret Keizer noted in his 2001 essay about the politics of noise that those who enjoy noisy recreation also, often quite boastfully, enjoy ruining everybody else’s peace: “My noise can penetrate your quiet, but your quiet can never penetrate my noise. ‘My noise is my right’ means ‘your ear is my hole.’”

There is a reason why the word “peace” is often followed by the phrase “and quiet,” while “loud” leads almost automatically to “and obnoxious.” Whether it’s a screeching herd of ATVs hurtling down a woodland trail or a single juiced-up river boat carving its way up an otherwise placid lake, the result is the same: those who go to those public spaces for “and quiet” will instead have their day ruined by “and obnoxious.” And more often than not, “Obnoxious” could care less. 

Obviously, there are many activities that require loud machinery, and any of those can certainly spoil a peaceful day. Chain saws and lawnmowers, helicopters and farm tractors, the garbage truck before dawn, and the ambulance sirens after dusk. There are other loud noises that are often beyond the control of the responsible parties – a dog barking at midnight, cows bellowing at milking time, a screaming baby in the arms of an embarrassed, frustrated mother. 

“Lots of things make noise.” True. But there are necessary noises, there are uncontrollable noises, and there are intentional noises. The use of ATVs in public forests such as Zaleski and the allowance of high-powered motorboats on public lakes such as Forked Run are all about “intentional noises.” The changes are advocated by folks who derive pleasure from ripping and tearing, roaring and thundering, and also (to a large extent) giving a virtual middle finger to the “peace and quiet” crowd. 

These things are inherently political, of course, and that often leads to hypocrisy. It would be unfair to assume that “those who love all things loud and obnoxious” in turn “hate all things peaceful and quiet” – or vice versa. Many of the same folks who would ruin a hiker’s day with an ATV in Zaleski are the same folks who on another weekend might have their hunting ruined by the eardrum-hurting rattle of a car full of hikers driving to the trail head. Powerboat enthusiasts may have little regard for canoes and fishing boats along the edges of the lake, but then would get miffed if a posse of loud-talking kayakers disturbed their fishing.


I LIVE OUT IN THE BOONIES, so when I hear a neighbor firing off a few hundred rounds from his AR or another neighbor doing laps around his field with his non-mufflered four-wheeler, I simply accept it as part of the deal. I’m sure my bush-hogging and hay-baling has disturbed their peace and quiet at some point, too. Folks who live in the city know that the noise of cars, of children playing, of young people carousing late into the night, etc., is part of their deal.

“Intentional noise” in currently placid parks is not, however, part of the deal. Opposing the “loud and obnoxious” from overtaking yet more of our public trails and waterways is an activity in which the taxpayers who prefer peace and quiet are, justifiably, making plenty of necessary noise.  

Bill Reader lives on a farm outside of Coolville.

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