- Associated Press - Thursday, September 24, 2015

MILFORD, Pa. (AP) - Blame the drones.

At least that’s how it appears as a model airplane club that has been flying for more than 20 years is being asked to vacate Hialeah Trailhead off River Road in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

The RAMAC - Roxbury Area Model Airplane Club, which is 60 members strong - has long used the site, and the DWGNRA even promotes the club on its website, inviting visitors to watch the air show.

But a new National Park Service moratorium on unmanned aircraft - announced last summer, sparked by a series of noise and nuisance complaints at other parks - requires superintendents of national parks to consider evicting any flying clubs using park land. Many of those complaints, however, involved disrupting herding animals and roaming wildlife.

Flying Hawks operates another model airplane field in the park, near Route 209 just south of Milford.

Both groups’ permits expired at the end of last year, according to Park Service spokeswoman Kathleen Sandt of DWGNRA. But Howard “Skip” Berka of Blairstown, New Jersey, speaking at a public input hearing attended by about 30 people at Bushkill Inn on Sept. 12, says RAMAC still has a permit.

“We’re trying to save the field,” said Berka. “They say the noise from the fuel (engine) airplanes does not fit the demographic of the park.”

Berka said there is concern by park officials about the noise carrying over to nearby Turtle Beach and the McDade Trail, which is a quarter of a mile away. Sandt said the concern is even farther than that, to Smithfield Beach and the Delaware River, according to prior reports.

Berka, who has flown for RAMAC, said he and a few others from his group are looking to keep RAMAC at its site and even suggested switching the model airplane engines from fuel to much quieter electric engines. He said Donohue heard their suggestion and it will be examined.

But there is a second concern about planes disrupting the overall tranquil experience for hikers and perhaps posing a safety hazard, although RAMAC members, mostly from New Jersey, must join the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which provides $1 million in liability insurance for its members.

“We want to do something about it, but many club members do not want to speak up,” Berka said at the hearing. “But if they have to leave, I don’t know if there is any other place for them to go. I’ve seen this for 30 years here, and no one has ever complained about the planes. People come to watch us all the time.”

Berka said people vacationing at Shawnee Inn and Fernwood Resort in the summer bring their model airplanes to fly with the club.

“He (Donohue) has said, ‘We want you to move in two to three years, and there are sites just as good on the Jersey side, and we’ll help you move,” Berka said.

If it has to leave, Berka said the club “does not have the wherewithal” to go to another field, which would mean a costly lease and force an inevitable disbanding of the club.

Wing spans range from 18 inches to 10 feet for planes flown by the club that take off and land on a 100-foot-by-500-foot runway. They fly below 400 feet as mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

RAMAC operates under guidelines that include requiring the operator to see the aircraft at all times, which is different from the unmanned drone aircraft that use cameras beyond the line of sight of the operator, a growing hobby that is believed to have pushed the National Park Service to its directive.

Berka has said that members of the club have wanted to be good citizens and have participated in maneuvers at the airfield without incident. Members even mow the airfield with the club’s own mower, a requirement under the Park Service’s agreement.

But Sandt said the decision no longer rests in the DWGNRA and her only comment was that any request for an exemption permit allowing for continued flying would have to go to the main office in Washington, D.C.

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Online: https://bit.ly/1jemZp3

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Information from: Pocono Record, https://www.poconorecord.com/

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