As cell phones, iPods and laptops creep steadily into every corner of modern life, America’s national parks have stayed largely off the digital grid, among the last remaining outposts of ringtone-free human solitude.
For better or worse, that may soon change, Reuters reported.
Under pressure from telecommunications companies and a growing number of park visitors who feel adrift without mobile-phone reception, the airwaves in such grand getaway destinations as Yellowstone National Park may soon be abuzz with new wireless signals.
That prospect has given pause to a more traditional cohort of park visitors who cherish the unplugged tranquility of the great outdoors, fearing an intrusion of mobile phones – and the sound of idle chatter – will diminish their experience.
Some have mixed emotions. Stephanie Smith, a 50-something Montana native who visits Yellowstone as many as six times a year, said she prefers the cry of an eagle to ring tones.
But she also worries that future generations may lose their appreciation for the value of nature and the need to preserve America’s outdoor heritage if a lack of technology discourages them from visiting.
“You have to get there to appreciate it,” Smith said. “It’s a new world – and technology is a part of it.”
Balancing the two aesthetics has emerged as the latest challenge facing the National Park Service as managers in at least two premier parks, Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, consider recent requests to install new telecommunications towers or upgrade existing ones.
There is no system-wide rule governing cellular facilities in the 300 national parks, national monuments and other units the agency administers nationwide. Wireless infrastructure decisions are left up to the managers of individual park units.
The agency’s mission statement requires it to protect park resources and the visitor experience, but each individual experience is unique, said Lee Dickinson, a special-uses program manager for the Park Service.
“I’ve had two visitors calling me literally within hours of each other who wanted exactly the opposite experience: One saying he didn’t vacation anywhere without electronic access and the other complaining he was disturbed by another park visitor ordering pizza on his cell phone,” Dickinson said.