Cell phone service in national parks?

When Jack London wrote “Call of the Wild” he wasn’t thinking about a ring tone going off in the pocket of one of Buck’s owners.

And when Dr. Brewster M. Higley wrote the words we associate with “Home on the Range,” with its line about “where the buffalo roam,” I’m pretty sure he wasn’t thinking about those critters incurring roaming charges.

But if some of the folks putting pressure on the National Parks Service have their way, more and more national parks and monuments will be filled with wireless waves allowing visitors to use their cellphones, iPads and other devices.

Forget about getting away from it all to fill your natural senses with nothing but the sounds and sights of nature’s greatest wonders. You’ll have to share them with big shots negotiating important deals, with people catching up with the folks at home and with kids who want to stay in their tents watching movies all day.

Well, I’ve got news for you, Grizzly Adams. A lot of national parks are not exactly escapes from civilization, especially during peak seasons. When you’re looking for an experience with nature, people are annoyances, and they’re everywhere in a national park.

So don’t get too worked up over this Reuters report that says telecommunications companies and lots of park visitors are putting pressure on the service to make parks more accessible to mobile devices. Telephone calls and people standing around the Grand Canyon playing “Angry Birds” would be annoying, all right, but only in a matter of degrees from what you experience already.

Plus, there could be some advantages. If you get lost or injured, having a working cell phone could be a lifesaver. That’s an obvious benefit. But what about a mobile app that acts as a guide?

I’ve been in plenty of museums where patrons can rent a device that provides detailed information about paintings or displays. I find that these enhance the experience and add to the learning. An app could do this. It also could warn you in real time about approaching bad weather or give you the shortest route back to your cabin or camp.

Sure, some people will abuse the privilege. They will text when they should be looking at something magnificent. They will be chatting with Aunt Mabel in Poughkeepsie about her bunions when they should be absorbing a grand vista.

People are like that. If they can’t use their phones, they will find some other way to annoy you.

The biggest question concerning this matter has to do with cost. The Park Service just released a memo outlining the money it will lose if Congress can’t find a way to avoid “sequestration,” the automatic cuts that take effect March 1 without a grand compromise on long-term budget issues.

Without such a deal, you may be back to typing out dispatches to the civilized world on your portable manual Underwood or scrawling with a pen on a post card.

Hey, those limitations didn’t stop Jack London from writing some memorable stuff.

Categories: Utah issues, Washington

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.


  1. Bob Laybourn

    Visitors that get disoriented (geographically speaking) could use their GPS smartphone and Google Maps or a similar application to extricate themselves from their predicament and save the Park Service a lot of search and rescue dollars.

  2. Hutterite

    It would be nice if there were service along US 2 through glacier park, and on the going to the sun road as well. It would make driving through there safer.

Leave a comment

DeseretNews.com encourages a civil dialogue among its readers. We welcome your thoughtful comments.