Connectivity “Important” to 80 Percent of National Parks Visitors

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Advice posted along Grand Canyon trails reminds visitors of the need to be mindful of their safety while enjoying the park. The need for weighing safety concerns versus aesthetic concerns is an issue that all popular parks face when considering telecommunication capabilities. The Sentinel-Record reports on the decisions that keep park officials busy, and thinking ahead.

The Grand Canyon has plans to build five new cell towers, none of them placed below the rim. More than 80 percent of park visitors at the popular site said that connectivity of the electronic devices was important to them. The park currently employs both traditional cell towers hidden amongst the trees, and smaller, less obvious antennas throughout the landscape. Even so, there are groups that advocate for keeping the Grand Canyon free from cell phones. 

Park officials face the challenge of providing internet coverage that can extend over large areas, without making a substantial visual impact on the view. People hiking out to savor the beauty of nature not only take great photos, they also have a tendency to get lost. Trona Pinnacles Park visitor, Kam Redlawsk says that she and her husband got lost while visiting the California park and were unable to get a cell signal. After several harrowing hours, they found their way to safety, but as Redlawsk noted, “Access should be an equal right, especially in times of crises.”  

While there are voices raised in favor of keeping national parks off the grid, most visitors and officials favor a compromise that will allow people to look up directions, summon emergency assistance, and stay connected to the outside world. Death Valley recognized the need for better coverage, but plans have stalled as AT&T grapples with accommodating environmental issues. Parks, like Yellowstone, that already have cell phone coverage are seeking new ways to upgrade to meet increasing demands from visitors. 

“The interior of Yellowstone has been starved for bandwidth,” said Bret De Young, Branch Chief of Technology at the park. He noted that equipment installed as recently as 2008, was overburdened within a year. 

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