National Park Service wants wired Park System. Give control over it to concessionaires?

Good or bad idea? PEER doesn’t like it-

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has reported in a news release  that the National Park Service  looks to be supporting a push by The National Park Hospitality Association, a trade group for Park concessionaires, to greatly increase cell and internet connectedness in the national parks. PEER says it will be done with little to no public input. They say concessionaires would largely control the “wired” Park System.

In the recent past the placement of cell towers in Park scenic areas has been a matter of controversy, including Yellowstone Park. Opponents also don’t like the idea of campsites,  included those in the deep backcountry or wilderness, becoming just a quick call away for instructions, help, or simply routine personal and business talk and messaging.

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News Release.

Plans to Wire the Entire National Park System 
Concessionaires Would Control Visitor Cell and Internet Access and Content

Posted on Jan 31, 2013

Washington, DC — The National Park Service (NPS) appears deeply committed to an industry-sponsored initiative which would change the way many visitors experience national parks, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Plans to significantly expand cellular and internet “connectivity” inside parks have advanced without public notice.

The National Park Hospitality Association (NPHA), which represents concessionaires who operate lodges, stores and other commercial outlets inside national parks, is leading the effort to dramatically hike visitor access to cell and internet signals inside parks – signals from the concessionaires, that is. NPHA laments that “in many of America’s national parks, prized smartphones are little more than cameras because cell and data service, even at visitor centers and lodges and other developed sites, is poor – or worse.”

The organization has the ear of Park Service leadership, which is working with NPHA to –

  • Provide internet access “at all major, developed visitor areas in the national park system” and “basic cell phone service at all major visitor areas in national park units, as well as along most roads and at major sites such as trailheads;”
  • “Deliver timely, park-focused information within national parks through smart phones, tablets and computers…to deliver interpretation and other important information to park visitors;” and
  • In order be “financially sustainable,” NPHA wants “the opportunity to develop and operate these systems” in which they charge fees for services beyond free “landing pages.” NPHA envisions a capacity “which could reduce the need for handing out printed materials and even facilitate fee collection through electronic devices.”

“This is a disturbing stealth scheme to wire our national park system,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting the utter absence of any analysis of impacts or public input. “Experiencing the natural wonders of our national parks should not require a smartphone.”

NPS Deputy Director Peggy O’Dell has invited NPHA to nominate the first five parks to be wired, with the final “winners” selected sometime in January. NPS Director Jon Jarvis is reviewing an NPHA-drafted system-wide policy promoting connectivity and a joint “strategy session” is slated for February.

“This would be a giant step toward ‘Disney-fying’ park interpretation, replacing rangers with corporate icons as your guides,” Ruch added. “Solitude values of parks will go by the board, as lodges, tents, trailheads and other park locations become just another place to fiddle with electronic devices.”


From PEER-

Read the NPHA plans

View NPHA effort to set national park policy

Look at spread of cell towers through the national park system

Compare the planning process at Yellowstone National Park



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  1. Kayla Avatar

    Personally am against all of this Internet wiring of the Park Service System with including the backcountry. Can’t people live without their freaking cellphone for even some hike. Personally do think people did to put all of these things aside at times and just go out and spend time in the wilds in the old ways with plenty of solitude.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      No, no, no – a thousand times no! There has to be some places sacred from all of this stuff.

  2. Mark L Avatar
    Mark L

    Hmmm…wonder if it can be used to track collared wolves online. Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t it?

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      It’s an addiction – you can’t even go to a movie without people texting during a film. Having people in a national park not even paying attention would be a sacrilege.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        Or people pushing their camera phones all around you and in front of you to take pictures of famous landmarks. Ugh. It’s rude.

    2. Swilliams Avatar

      Not if the information is used to kill them.

  3. Taylor Avatar

    This is just another example of the Park Service selling out to concessionnaires…I think it stinks. The parks are supposed to be pristine areas dedicated to wilderness, and that’s that. If the yuppies need to use a phone all the time, let ’em stay home.

  4. Larry Keeney Avatar
    Larry Keeney

    Very opposed to concessionnaires running the webpages and content because they will be sure to slowly tweek everything to entice or coupon a visit to a concessionnaire. But I see nothing wrong with the aspect of enlarging the interpretation opportunities. I never go out without a few books in the backpack (geology, birds, mushrooms etc) and the farther I will travel the more books I want to take it seems. Too bad it couldn’t be set to be text/data only. It would be terrible to wanting to listen quietly at a viewpoint and have someone walk up talking loudly to someone at the stock exchange in Hong Kong. Just like in the grocery stores. So a mixed bag but the big negative is the concessionnaires running it. I’d vote no just because of that. Corporations run our lives too much.

  5. savebears Avatar

    Well I hate to see it, but with my wife and I, without internet access, we are out of business. I know there are several people in this world that can actually take a vacation, I am not one of them, I often times have to file reports and such, that pertain to wildlife management. When I am in the field, I will stop for a day or two in one of the parks to spend some time relaxing.

    Cell phones I could care less about, don’t have one, but having the ability to file my reports, that is a big deal. I just hope they do it in a prudent and non-invasive way.

    With our ever connected world, this is going to become more and more important. The days of a non-working vacation is going the way of the Do-Do bird.

    1. timz Avatar

      While in Yellowstone last fall my wife had to take a couple hours and work. We got out of the park and went to a coffee shop in Gardiner.
      A small inconvenience but I’d rather do it that
      way than have the park wired.

  6. john Avatar

    fact of the matter is,, there are already places you can’t get on line in the park.. one is up on dun raven pass,, another at canyon, one at elk creek curve before the petrified tree, As i spend most of my time at the north side, those are the ones i know of, i can even use my phone as a hot spot, pull over and get on line if something is required…but i certainly wouldnt want it to be paying service as I am already paying for the service i have,, i sure as hell don’t want to duplicate it

  7. Daryl L. Hunter Avatar

    As someone who is up there several times per week I sure would like to see more coverage. There is a lot of gasoline wasted by those who know where to get cell coverage leaving where they want to be or where they live/work in the park to be able to make calls. Mary’s Bay alway has folks on the phone because that is where the people from Lake Village and Fishing Bridge have to go to call.

  8. Larry Keeney Avatar
    Larry Keeney

    Everything having to do with our national parks ought to have to be run by park service or as a nonprofit corp. Everything having to do with making a profit off of our national heritage has a magnetic declination towards a conflict of interest and has twists like a corkscrew willow. Raise the cost of grazing on public lands to pay for the government run services. If it’s national park it should be free to the public for the fact that it is a national heritage. All costs should be budgeted from the general coffers. It is for the general good. No entrance fees, no fees except for general self accomodations and services. How many fees have been added to the grazing use of public lands? If it were to be compared with what has happened with recreational use of public lands we would see a surcharge for grazing on southern exposures in the spring and northern exposures in the late summer. And horse unloading fees at truck ramps and fees for overnight herder camps. I’m tired of this assault on wholesome recreational use of public lands. If they could congress would charge per/bird seen and per/bird identified. So far they haven’t figured out how to hack my brain waves for that information.

  9. Nancy Avatar

    I live in an area thats pretty much considered wilderness. There is no cell service (WIFI if you drive around 🙂 available and its a mixed bag with people who come and stay at vacation rentals or at the local motels. Some love the fact that they aren’t connected with the outside world for a few days or a week. Others, can’t imagine not having that instant connection.

    Go to a local town or city in Montana anymore and just about every other person, in a vehicle (you pass) has a cell phone “glued” to their ear (although laws are being drafted (and in place, in some areas) to stiffle the mostly, mindless “chatter” humans have become addicted to because of cell phones.

    I love having access to the internet but why would anyone think it should have a place in truely wild places?

    1. JB Avatar


      I grew up 3 miles from “downtown” Big Rapids (Michigan). I’ve never had cell service in that house–still need to climb the hill to get a signal–and there’s certainly no broadband available.

  10. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    I like having internet access too – but there’s a time and a place for it, and the National Parks ain’t the place. And not 24/7 – there’s an entire real world out there – or at least there is so far. Someday I can see it disappearing, and I’m glad I won’t be around to see that. I can understand those who work and need to transmit reports, but just general bs has no place there. Why go? Ipads, Iphones, Ipods all verboeten if I were a parent. 😉 You’re supposedly visiting the national parks to enjoy nature and wilderness. I remember going to the Tetons and the place I stayed at didn’t even have TV, and I didn’t miss it at all. It was too beautiful for anything to interfere.

    1. savebears Avatar


      Because YOU didn’t miss it, does that mean others should miss it? Don’t take me wrong, I don’t often have TV service where I live and it really does not bother me, but in this day and age, some of us need to make a living, going to the parks most of the time is not a vacation to me, I have to work!

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        I don’t think if they want it that badly they should go to a wilderness SB. People who work would be excepted. Who wants Yellowstone and Tetons to become just another crass and tacky place?

        1. savebears Avatar


          Unfortunately, I feel that many parts of Yellowstone and Teton are already crass and tacky!

          What I find really interesting, is, many here are always saying that people need to realize it is the 21 first century, but when it comes to topics that are important to them, they want to go back in time.

          Seems like a push me pull me at times.

          1. Ida Lupine Avatar
            Ida Lupine

            I just think that you should leave the electronics at home, I should have made that clearer. You want your kids on a vacation like the National Parks to learn and observe, think and talk! And value what they see around them. They can have all the electronics they want at home. Thank goodness for real film cameras too! I love having internet, only have a basic cell phone for emergencies – but I worry when I see people seemingly out of touch with what’s going on around them, it really can’t help our disconnect with the natural world. What about the non-humans who live in the park, don’t they even rate a moment’s consideration?

            1. savebears Avatar

              With the way the world is going Ida, what you or I think is a very small part of the equation. I am glad my children are grown up, married and having their own families, I certainly would not want to be the one making the rules now a days.

              Again, what you want and what I want, really does not matter anymore, we are outnumbered.

              1. Ida Lupine Avatar
                Ida Lupine

                You’re right.

            2. Ida Lupine Avatar
              Ida Lupine

              I really do question whether it is all a moving forward, or just downhill momentum. The National Parks were meant to be about preserving a bit of wild, unspoiled lands for future generations.

  11. DLB Avatar

    Cell service has always been poor or nonexistant over long stretches of 410 between Enumclaw and Crystal Mountain. Folks up there have been howling for years about what a “grave danger” it creates to not have cell service. I’m surprised that the Park Service isn’t also pitching it as a safety issue.

    I think the vast majority of folks could do without it in NP’s.

    1. savebears Avatar


      I grew up in a age that having a phone in the car meant you were were a politician or a gangster. Unfortunately, now a days, many companies require you to be connected and you need to stay in touch.

      When I take a job now a days, part of my contract is always being able to stay in touch, There are many of us, that are required to check in and make daily reports, and it does not matter where you are, if you can’t, then they void the contract and you are liable for reimbursing them if you can’t complete the contract.

      Now I understand, but if you don’t want coverage, then don’t take your phone, but some of us are bound by agreements and contracts to report our progress.

      I hope no one takes me wrong, I hate listening to someone giving a blow by blow report of Old Faithful going off, hate listening to someone on the boardwalk at Logan Pass in Glacier trying to describe their bear sighting. etc. In the 21st century, being able to get information out, is very important for some.

      1. DLB Avatar


        I get what your saying, but lots of folks have to make adjustments based on the demands of their jobs. I’d love to live in NW Montana for a while, but it’s not an option for me professionally right now. I don’t know that you being wired from anywhere you want trumps the potential negative side-effects of a wired NP. Maybe it’s fine with a guy like you, but think about all those other folks….

        1. DLB Avatar

          ++Maybe it’s fine with a guy like you, but think about all those other folks…++

          Clarification: Maybe it’s fine if someone like you has internet access, but think of all the other folks who would potentially abuse the privelidge without a second thought.

        2. savebears Avatar

          What is the negative DLB? We all have a choice to leave the cell phone home, we all have a choice to leave the laptop home.

          Don’t we?

          1. savebears Avatar

            To add, when I am not working, I never have a computer with me, or a cell phone and I use a film camera to take my pictures.

            1. savebears Avatar

              As I said, I don’t have a cell phone, when I think I need one, I will buy a disposable one, and that is not often.

            2. DLB Avatar


              You’re not the problem with cell coverage in NP’s, but I believe that you’re an exception to the rule.

          2. DLB Avatar


            But I don’t have a choice in whether it pushes more folks to make poor choices since they feel that they can call help from anywhere, and I don’t have a choice about being exposed to folks jabbering away on cell phones in pristine settings. I go out in the woods to get away from that.

            The next thing you know, people are going to be demanding it in wilderness areas.

            1. savebears Avatar

              As I said DLB, I don’t have cell coverage at my home, often times, I don’t have TV, but I also understand that there are some of us, that do require coverage when we are working.

              I am blessed because I can live where I do, but the world is moving forward, and beings the parks are well visited, the majority of visitors are going to demand coverage, that is a fact of life.

              As some say often times, this is the 21st century and people need to move forward.

    2. WM Avatar


      There has been cell service on parts of Mt. Rainier for nearly twenty years. I climbed a route on the south side called the Kautz Glacier route in about 1995, with some buddies from CO. It’s got lots of cravasses, a nasty ice fall ledge, and a stretch that requires a bollard, and somebody with big cajones to be the last guy to retrieve it on the way down, and free climb from the set to safety. None of us had done the route before. So, I stuck one of those early style cell phones half the size of a cigar box in the bottom of my pack just in case. There were eight guys on the climb and only two knew I had the phone, because we didn’t want to spoil the wilderness experience for everybody else. Didn’t need it, fortunately. I had called MRNP ahead of time to ask two questions: Is there service on parts of the mountain? Yes Is it legal to use a cell phone on the mountain? Yes, and a number of rescues called in on cell phones (more folks taking their phones on the hill to stay in touch since then).

      Another time (think I already told the story here) I encountered a woman who had broken her leg near the summit of Mt. Adams when she and her dumb-ass husband tried to glissade down from the false summit with crampons on (those spike things that go on your boots). He took off, never looking back. I found her, yelled to some other climbers going up for someone with medical training and a cell phone. They called in the emergency which went from the south side of the mountain NE to the Yakima County Sheriff dispatch, which then routed the call to the Trout Lake FS, and we were able to get a rescue started in about three minutes. I then took off down the glissade path like a banshee down the chute and caught up with the dip-shit husband about three thousand feet elevation and fifteen minutes later. He never looked back to see how his wife was doing. Lucky he didn’t break his leg to- anybody knows you don’t use crampons in a glissade,only an ice axe self-arrest position using the bottom point as a rudder/brake.

      I later learned it took them two days to get her off the mountain in a litter. A nurse with a cell phone stayed with her and gave regular reports on her condition to other medical folks. For some reason no chopper was called for a lift.

      Overall I think cell phone service expansion throughout most NP’s (though probably no towers in wilderness designated areas), will occur. The park adminstration wants it for employee communication. It makes rescues easier. The vendors want it. Most visitors want it (like those ungrateful little youngsters who would prefer to be texting their friends rather than taking in a site or watching wild animals). The concessionaires and the cell phone service folks would make money on it. This thing has been slowly heating on the back burner for awhile. As much as many of us think it degrades wilderness and wildlife based national parks, I think it will be difficult to stop.

  12. CodyCoyote Avatar

    Let’s just ban all manmade electricity from the wilder western National parks. Including from sparkplugs and lightbulbs . QED.

    I’m OK with leaving it on at Grant’s Tomb in NYC …

    1. savebears Avatar

      Not a problem CC, but we can’t have it both ways, either we need to evolve or we don’t, one segment can’t demand another needs to evolve if they are not willing to accept the movement forward themselves.

  13. savebears Avatar

    I have been corresponding on this blog for some time now, and often have read messages about predator hunting, which state,

    “after all this is the 21st century, these people need to stop, we are an evolved society now a days”

    And now I am hearing, we don’t need this technology, it is,

    “after all a place to go back in time, and get back to nature”

    Folks, you can’t have it both ways, either we evolve or we don’t, unfortunately, we are evolving and the ability to be connected anywhere is one of those evolutions.

    1. DLB Avatar


      I haven’t made those statements, so the basis for my argument is still intact. 😉

      1. savebears Avatar


        I didn’t say you did, I said what I keep hearing.

        1. savebears Avatar

          But I will say, if you don’t want the parks wired, then you are living in the past, because, unfortunately, the majority do want them wired.

    2. Mike Avatar

      ++Folks, you can’t have it both ways, either we evolve or we don’t, unfortunately, we are evolving and the ability to be connected anywhere is one of those evolutions.++

      We’ve evolved beyond hunting and trapping too, but I don’t see you supporting that.


  14. Leslie Avatar

    I just didn’t see that grizzly coming at me because I was talking on my phone!

  15. Mike Avatar

    The National Park Service and National Forest System need LESS concessionaires.

    Trust me, I’ve seen and interacted with my share, far more often than most people. The concessionaires for the most part do a far worse job than park/forest managed areas. I couldn’t tell you the vast discrepancy between attitudes of concessionaire employees and those of the federal government.

    As for the parks being wired, as long as they’re not building structures I’m not sure it really matters. Those who will not want to be wire will choose not to do so (me). Those who want to be connected will have the option.

    But starting putting up towers, and its a non-starter.

  16. DavePA Avatar

    Geez, and I go to Yellowstone so my boss cant call me! Dav


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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