Yellowstone losing battle against cellphones In this Aug. 3, 2016 file photo, a herd of bison grazes in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park in Wyo. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)
Yellowstone losing battle against cellphones
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Adventure seekers encounter untamed wilderness when they enter the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park. Howling wolves. Deadly grizzly bears. Steam-spewing geysers. The setting is seen nowhere else on earth.
 
But is it a refuge from ringing cellphones? Not so much.
 
In the popularity contest between Yellowstone's natural wonders and on-demand phone service, park administrators appear to have lost ground on a 2009 pledge. That was to minimize cellphone access in backcountry areas.
 
Signal coverage maps show calls can now be received in large swaths of Yellowstone's interior. These include the picturesque Lamar Valley and other areas. Until just recently, they were out of reach.
 
The maps were obtained by a Washington-based advocacy group. It is Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. For years, the group has fought against new telecommunications infrastructure in Yellowstone. It is the first national park in the U.S.
 
Their release comes not long after lawmakers in the U.S. House introduced a bill. It would allow even more cellphone towers and similar structures on public lands.
 
Ken Sinay operates the Yellowstone Safari tour company. He has been running nature tours in the park's backcountry for two decades. He said phone signals became far more prevalent in many parts of the park.
 
His customers typically arrive to get away from modern-day distractions. But some are unable to resist the lure of taking business calls. They call home. They check on their dogs.
 
"It's a real drag at Artists Point," Sinay said. He was referring to a famous overlook. It is near Yellowstone Falls. "While people are trying to enjoy themselves, somebody's on their phone waving their hands and gesturing. And walking around in a circle."
 
Yellowstone technology chief Bret De Young acknowledged the occurrence of "spillover" cellphone signals into backcountry areas. But he suggested the coverage maps exaggerated the quality of coverage in parts of the park.
 
In 2009, Yellowstone issued a wireless and telecommunications management plan. It said cellphone coverage "would not be promoted or available along park roads outside developed areas. Or promoted or available in any of the backcountry."
 
"No cellphone service will be allowed in the vast majority of Yellowstone," park officials said when the plan was adopted.
 
PEER executive director Jeff Ruch said the park had failed to meet those goals. Instead, it has ceded its telecommunications program to companies that wanted to offer blanket coverage.
 
"The ability to disconnect, the serenity value of that, is a park resource that they've given away without a thought," Ruch said.
 
De Young said it is not the intent to cover backcountry areas. And the park is taking steps to limit cell service.
 
That's being done with the installation of new antennas. They direct signals more precisely. That means cellphone services are limited mainly to the small communities and campgrounds in the park.
 
Two of the park's five cellphone towers now use those specially aimed antennas. De Young said a third is due to be converted this fall.
 
A cellphone coverage map provided by the park shows that the signals extend beyond targeted areas but lose signal strength as the distance from the communities and campgrounds increases.
 
"This will allow the service providers to keep up with new phone technology while limiting unintentional coverage areas," De Young said.
 
The House legislation seeks to encourage even greater cellular and broadband coverage within national parks and other public lands. The measure from California U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman is known as the Public Lands Telecommunications Act.
 
It would impose rental fees on telecommunications companies with cell towers or other infrastructure on public lands. Money raised would be used by the U.S. Interior and Agriculture Departments to obtain additional communication sites and take other steps to foster greater coverage.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why do people walk in circles when talking on cellphones?
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COMMENTS (118)
  • matthewm-kul
    10/18/2016 - 12:51 p.m.

    I don't think that people really need their cell phones when they go to national parks but people want them. You would also be taking away the beauty of the park with cell phone towers because they stand pretty tall. People should be experiencing the beauty of the park and not walking around on their cell phones.

    • dylann-kul
      10/18/2016 - 12:53 p.m.

      I totally agree with Matt. Putting up the towers will take away from the beauty. There is no point in having cell phones at a National Park like Yellowstone.

    • danielb-kul
      10/18/2016 - 12:55 p.m.

      I agree with Matt because phones would take away from the beauty of the park and the towers will take up a lot of room.

    • macy-kul
      10/18/2016 - 01:04 p.m.

      I think that people should not attend a National Park just to be on their cell phone the whole time. However, an individual should be able to have access to service if it is needed.

      • abigailo-kul
        10/21/2016 - 08:25 p.m.

        I agree with Macy that you wouldn’t need a cell phone in a National Park because it takes away from the beauty of the animals and the park. The only reason why it might be handy to have was if it was an emergency and something bad happened.

    • andrewf-kul
      10/18/2016 - 01:06 p.m.

      I agree so much with the towers taking away the beauty of the park. I do think though that they should have certain areas of the park with cell service.

    • coltonw-kul
      10/21/2016 - 10:47 a.m.

      I agree cellphone towers take up room, but they are making new towers that are extremely thin; and specifically for emergencies, I think there should be reception out there.

    • bethanyl-kul
      10/21/2016 - 12:52 p.m.

      I agree with Matt, I don't think people need their phones when they go to a state park. A state park is all about seeing nature, and i think cell phones would be a distraction.

    • sages-kul
      10/23/2016 - 12:30 p.m.

      I agree with Matt.I just think that national parks are for the park itself and nothing else. I doubt its very often that people get a chance to go places like that.

  • bethanyl-kul
    10/18/2016 - 12:52 p.m.

    I think that national parks should not be required to provide cell phone service in the park. The whole point of a national park is to get away from the city/towns and see nature. I think that if the park does not want to put cell phone towers in the park, they don't have to.

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