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Natural Sounds in National Parks

The National Park Service's Karen Treviño works to promote one of nature's most precious assets—its sounds.

Karen Treviño of the National Park Service's National Sounds Program, picture
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Photo: Courtesy of NPS
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To Karen Treviño, silence is golden.

For the last eight years, lawyer Karen Treviño has run the National Park Service’s Natural Sounds Program. Her job: to advocate nationwide for the natural symphony too often squelched by our own noisy species. (970) 267-7204,

Q What’s so great about natural sounds? A Sound adds a richness that sight alone can’t. In some cases you only have sound. How many people have seen wolves? Not many. But everyone knows what they sound like.

Q What do you hear when you cut down on human noise? A The crunching of leaves beneath your feet. The play of the wind in the trees. Rolling thunder. Birdsong. Every national park has its own soundscape—and sometimes it’s just silence. In the Yellowstone backcountry in winter, the total stillness will awaken all your senses.

Q What are some of the quieter parks? A From our measurements so far, Olympic, Denali, Canyonlands, Arches, Glen Canyon, and Lake Mead—though with a caveat. Nature itself can be noisy at these places.

Q You protect cultural sounds, too? A Right. That can mean making sure visitors get to hear taps on a battlefield or jazz in New Orleans or the reverential quiet at Washington’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Q Favorite sounds? A I’m the wrong person to ask—I go on and on. I adore waterfalls, wolves howling, elk bugling, ptarmigan chirping. And whether I’m in a tent or a cabin, the sound of coyotes never fails to make me feel cozy. I don’t much like hearing rattlesnakes, although I’m thankful for their alarming sound.

This article was first published in May 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.