Man Charged with Illegally Landing a Helicopter in Grand Teton National Park and Setting Up a Lakeside Picnic

The pilot has had aviation-related run-ins with the National Park Service before. NPS.

A Colorado man is facing big fines and possible jail time after he landed a helicopter on a remote beach on the shore of Jackson Lake in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. According to a National Park Service (NPS) press release, park rangers were alerted to the illegal landing at approximately 3 p.m. on Saturday June 24. They responded by boat and issued Peter Smith of Gunnison, Colorado two federal citations.

Rangers said they found Smith and a woman lunching by the lake in an area that’s only accessible by boat or a 10-mile hike, and Smith’s aircraft was parked next to them on the gravel. “The unauthorized landing of helicopters is prohibited on the lands and waters within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park in order to protect wildlife and other natural resources and to preserve the visitor experience,” NPS stated in the July 10 press release.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Smith denied the agency’s claim that he was picnicking along the lakeshore when rangers showed up to write him a ticket. “We were trying to cross over the Tetons and we couldn’t so we landed,” Smith, owner of West Elk Air told the AP. “We were not having a picnic. We were landing. If that’s the safe course of action, that’s what needs to happen.”

Smith has been cited for aerial antics before. He paid a $530 fine for flying too low across Colorado’s Gunnison National Park in February. Grand Teton’s penalty could be more severe. He faces two misdemeanor counts: One for operating an aircraft in an undesignated location and another for not following Federal Aviation Administration regulations. Combined, the penalties could total $10,000 and/or one year in jail. Smith will face a federal judge in Wyoming August 15. 

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Jackson Lake lies on the northern end of Grand Teton National Park near the southern boundary of Yellowstone in northwest Wyoming. The 25,000-acre lake is encircled by stunning views of the nearby Teton Range. Moran Bay, where Smith illegally landed his chopper, is roughly 26 miles from the town of Jackson Hole, as the crow flies.

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