How would you like to have Dick Cheney as your neighbor?
Last August, three helicopters, including one bearing Cheney, landed at a protected area known as Puzzleface Ranch, leaving locals more than a bit puzzled. With two other helipads in the region, conservationists assumed that Cheney would land on the preserve only during an emergency or security situation. The Secret Service confirmed that was not the case.
The incident literally ruffled feathers around Skyline Pond, which is being ecologically refurbished with osprey and trumpeter swans.
Still, nothing quite prepared people for the brazen invasion earlier this month atop the normally bucolic Snake River in Grand Teton National Park. In full view of rafters, tourists and residents, two Black Hawk helicopters skimmed the river.
Angry river users shook their fists. Wildlife tumbled over from the choppers’ downdraft, witnesses said. Plants were rippling in the high winds, they said.
“They were at tree-top levels,” said Martin Hagen, a captain who navigates the river for a rafting company. “Here you go out for a quiet day along the river and suddenly comes this great noise. It was a big, big disturbance.”
Another boat captain, Reed Finley, had just dropped passengers ashore when the choppers buzzed three times.
“They sent an osprey into a tailspin, flipping it over,” he said. “It was obnoxious.”
The park rangers at Grand Teton National Park were flooded with complaints. The lead ranger called the Secret Service detail guarding Cheney to complain because he had no other number: The National Park Service has no way to communicate with military aircraft. The choppers were violating park service rules not to fly lower than 2,000 feet.
“That’s way too low to fly,” park spokeswoman Joan Anzelmo said of the nearly eye-level flight path of the helicopters. “Visitors were frightened, and animals were disturbed. That type of reconnaissance mission is not something to do in a national park.”
A spokesman for Cheney did not respond to a request for comment about the vice president’s general neighborhood awareness.
But the day after the two Black Hawks buzzed the national park, Cheney was spotted fishing in the Snake River. In the past, Secret Service agents in pontoons usually cut off river traffic. This time Cheney fished off to the side so rafters could float by.
River users hope it was a signal that Cheney and his entourage got the message.
“He needs to obey the rules like the rest of us,” Hagen said.