Actually, they’ve been there for a while, and that’s part of the problem. There’s a cell tower at Old Faithful that lots of people hate, a mess on Bunsen Peak, and “extensive communications facilities atop Mount Washburn.” These visual blights are going to be modified under the new plan, announced Monday.
From the Billings Gazette story:
The plan, about five years in the making, was opened to public comment last fall following an environmental assessment. The park recently signed a Finding of No Significant Impact and altered its original proposal somewhat in response to public comments. Stevens called it a precedent-setting document for the National Park Service, since it is one of the first wireless communications plan and so far the only one that covers such a large area of federal land….
Part of the park’s objective is to encourage “polite” cell phone use as well as outline areas where cell phones would not be allowed. Signs, interpretive talks and newsletters would highlight the policy, Nash said. In addition, Wi-Fi service would not be allowed at historical park buildings, such as the Old Faithful Inn and Lake Hotel, to preserve their character, but the service could be provided at other concession facilities.
“We tried to devise a plan that we feel is respectful of the experience visitors expect to have in Yellowstone while acknowledging the technological changes that have occurred,” Nash said.
I’m afraid I’ve had too much experience with my fellow cell-phone users to think that signage is going to do much to keep the chattier among us from resisting the urge to share their every conversation with total strangers. (This could make the whole loaded, concealed weapons in the park just a little dicier. Hopefully, heat-packing visitors won’t become enforcers of cell phone etiquette.)
On the other hand, the visual impact of the cell towers will be mitigated. Additionally, new towers won’t be able to go just anywhere. The planners say that new towers will be sited to keep the service confined to commercial areas. And the good news for people who like to have a little peace and quiet with their park experience is that the plan bans cell towers from campgrounds and wilderness.
Yellowstone’s plan prohibits cell towers in recommended wilderness, in campgrounds, or along park road corridors. No cell phone service will be allowed in the vast majority of Yellowstone. Cell service is currently limited to the immediate vicinity of Canyon, Grant Village, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Old Faithful. The park would accept proposals to establish cell service for the Fishing Bridge/Lake Village area.
In Yellowstone, “Park concessioners would be allowed to offer Wi-Fi service in some buildings. In response to comments, Wi-Fi will be prohibited in the Old Faithful Inn and the Lake Hotel in order to preserve the historic lodging experience. Concession operators will be permitted to offer Wi-Fi service in other park lodging and general stores.”
I guess the full “historic lodging experience” is expressed better by the glow of a fire in the fireplace than that of a laptop monitor. But it does seem kind of quaint, given that the Old Faithful experience for most visitors has little to do with history and more to do with souvenir shopping. But I’ll bite, and be very glad that there’s still a place where I can have a very good reason not to crack open the computer and catch the latest news.
The ever-widening circle of cell intrusion into this incredible place saddens me, though. Yes, those of us who don’t want to be tethered to our phones can leave them home or chuck them in the glove box and head off for the more remote corners of the place where the things won’t work. It just seems there are fewer and fewer places to go to retreat from the 21st century. Yellowstone has been one of those places, though admittedly, the commercial areas have seemed more like just going back to mid-20th century. (“Hey, Boo Boo!”) Still, getting lost in space and time is getting to be a more and more difficult proposition. Ironically, soon the only place you’ll be able to avoid cell phones is on airplanes.
For national park purists like me, there’s some consolation coming this fall, in the from of a new Ken Burns documentary. My friend Joel Connelly has a preview:
Can any responsible person be found, especially among folks who fought national parks, who are still pecking away at the idea?
“We’re looking for ‘em,” joked Ken Burns.
The renowned public TV documentary producer is here on a two-day visit to promote his upcoming series: “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”
The six-part documentary is not only a tribute to natural wonders, but to the oft-abused citizens who fought to preserve unique landforms and places of great beauty from exploiters, despoilers and profiteers….
National parks are an idea gifted to the world by America and visionary Americans. “We invented it: Everybody has followed us,” Burns joked…. “The difference here is that creation of parks was bottoms up,” Burns said. “Despite all the talk about ‘elitists,’ it is democratic in its origins.”
I guess that’s the takeaway about our national parks. They are the best of democracy and their enjoyment by as many people as possible, even the ones yakking on their cell phones, should be celebrated. I just hope they do it quietly.