National Parks Enter the Digital Age—For Better or For Worse

Monday, November 18, 2013

North Rim Grand Canyon Cape Royal (Erik Harrison/Shutterstock)

Not even U.S. national parks can avoid the digital age.

Park managers across America are grappling with the question of how much technology to integrate into national parks. They’re considering everything from coded signs that park-goers can scan with their smartphones to access information about the parks, to weather updates via text message, and the integration of cellular and wireless service.

Park officials say enhancing these kinds of technologies is one way to appeal to a new generation of park-goers, who use devices to stay connected with things that are important to them.

But critics say that parks just aren't the place for cell phones, creating a fine line for park managers to walk in today’s digital age.

Samantha Brown is a host on the Travel Channel, and even though she’s been around the world and back, U.S. National Parks still hold a special sort of allure to her. She explains the possible technologies being integrated into national parks and the push back park managers are seeing from the digital divide. 


Samantha Brown

Produced by:

Katie Hiler and Johanna Mayer


T.J. Raphael

Comments [10]

Courtney Flowers from Orlando, FL

Why can't people just leave their phone off or at home if they don't want to be bothered by it when they go to a national park?

Nov. 18 2013 05:49 PM
Randy from Oakland CA

I was at the top of Quarter Dome in Yosemite National Park a few years ago. Quarter Dome is just below Half Dome where one can begin the climb up the side of Half Dome to its top. While waiting for some friends to come back down a Japanese tourist lost his balance while looking out over 1/4 Dome and slid down the side. Many of us watching in horror were able to call 911 on our cell phones thanks to the cell coverage there. Unfortunately the man died. However I believe the access to cell coverage always gives people the chance to survive these terrible accidents that can and do happen. Cell coverage should only be improved in our National Parks. Those who want the break from technology always have the option of turning the phone or tablet off.

Nov. 18 2013 04:08 PM
Barbara Quincy from Wilton CT

While visiting Yosemite last July, my i Pad was stolen from the Ahwahanee Lodge. Even though the Lodge advertised internet capabilities, it essentially had none. It was very frustrating to be unable to disable the device. Exactly one computer had access to the internet, and that was sporadic. I am totally in favor of all the National Parks having internet access, even without this unfortunate event.

Nov. 18 2013 04:05 PM
Philip K. Lane from Berkeley, CA

How about allowing cellphone coverage *only* for emergency calls, not for anything else (no regular calls, no texting, no internet)? That'd get *my* vote.

Nov. 18 2013 03:55 PM
Jason B from Kailua-Kona, HI

I think while it is unfortunate that people feel the need be connected constantly, there could be good things to come with the integration of cellphones and wi-fi. For example, a text message telling a camper that there is a bad storm approaching or maybe a hiker has experienced an injury and cannot reach his phone but is able to be located by searchers who can use the GPS his/her phone to locate them. I am an outdoor enthusiast and certainly a nature lover and have still not completely submitted to the tech revolution (I do not own a smartphone, for one) but we do live in the 21st century and there is no denying that people want to have their little bit of technology with them as comfort and, in a way, have the right to that comfort. It is a responsibility of the person who is using the technology to be sure not to bother other people exercising their right to not use their technological devices at that time, and vice-versa. The best thing that can happen before this inevitable integration, I feel, is that people will learn that what they have to share is not as important as they'd like it to be, thereby eliminating the need for visitors to be connected the entire time they are at a National Park. This of course is unlikely but I am hopeful that one day people will realize this for themselves, as we already realize this about other people (think Facebook or Instagram). The parks are big enough and the truth is that we are in the year 2013 (not for long, either) so it is up to the "visitor" or "person" to be aware of his/her surroundings, and that must include who is near them at the moment. The person on his/her cellphone must be aware that the couple next to him/her might not want to hear their conversation, even if it is the coolest thing they've ever talked about, ever, EVER. This is to say that common-courtesy and respect should be a guideline for when is an appropriate time to utilize technology in these settings. In practice, it is actually up to the person to know right from wrong. And therein lies the real problem. I hope we can come to our senses....

Nov. 18 2013 03:38 PM

It seems there's a simple solution. There are nature tourists and there are nature enthusiasts. The first want to see something the second want to experience it. To the enthusiast the rim of the Grand Canyon is just to pass through on the way to Tonto Rim.

The answer is enable technology for the tourists but keep it away from the enthusiasts

Nov. 18 2013 03:02 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

My girlfriend and I go hiking without our phones. We always get lost,and wonder if we are going to make it back alive.

Nov. 18 2013 02:29 PM
Keith from Portland, OR

When talking about whether we need cell phone service in our National Parks, it's disturbing that Ms. Brown says "I can't be completely without [technology]" when she travels. The human race has survived (and traveled) for thousands of years prior to cell phones and the internet. Sure it has had a huge impact on our modern lives, but to allow it to control our lives to this extent is kind of sad. I have my doubts that young people who are constantly glued to their smart phones would act any differently in a beautiful national park than they would in their normal lives, when they get together with friends and sit around staring at their phones.

Nov. 18 2013 01:15 PM
tyler levine from nantucket mass

Fyi you can get a cell signal just up the clear creek trail from phantom ranch at tha gc.

Nov. 18 2013 01:00 PM
Lucinda Mercer from Millburn, NJ

We spent 2 weeks rafting down the Grand Canyon in 2012, totally cut off from electronic communication. It was great. We were there with the rest of our group and our guides and the indescribably majesty of the Canyon. There was nothing intruding into the peace and beauty of the canyon. We were in the moment.

Nov. 18 2013 09:52 AM

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