Image: Bison near a hot spring in Yellowstone
Daniel Mayer
Yellowstone National Park has adopted a wireless communications plan that seeks to balance safety and convenience with its mission of preserving the park's natural condition.
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updated 4/21/2009 12:28:14 PM ET 2009-04-21T16:28:14

As the host of more than 24,000 visitors on busy summer days, Yellowstone National Park has adopted a wireless communications plan that seeks to balance safety and convenience with its mission of preserving the park's natural condition.

Yellowstone completed the plan this month after taking public comment on a proposal released last fall. The plan includes a limited expansion of cell phone service, restrictions on wireless Internet at historic lodges and rules for new scientific monitoring stations.

"Not all potential services are appropriate in all areas," park spokesman Al Nash said Monday. "It really is about an expectation that visitors have of a certain experience in Yellowstone, whether it's in historic lodging or in the backcountry. This plan recognizes technological change but works to protect the experience people seek in Yellowstone."

The plan restricts cell towers in the backcountry, in campgrounds and along park road corridors. While cell service won't be available in the vast majority of the park, the plan allows continued cell phone service in developed areas and the addition of service at Fishing Bridge/Lake Village area.

Tim Stevens, Northern Rockies regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said the final draft was a reasonable precedent for other parks.

Gadgets that make you look like a jerkStevens said he remained concerned about the prospect of building a new cell tower at the Fishing Bridge/Lake Village area, which he said could disrupt the serenity of the area.

"So instead of relaxing, being able to enjoy the view that you have at that lake, you instead have people walking up and down in front of you talking on cell phones," Stevens said.

The plan calls for moving the cell tower located near the geyser basin and Old Faithful — the park's most visited site — to a less visible site at a nearby water treatment plant. The installation of the tower in 2001 fueled debate over how the park would navigate the rush of wireless technology.

In response to public comments, Yellowstone added a prohibition against wireless Internet service at historic lodges including the Lake Hotel, Old Faithful Inn, the Roosevelt Lodge, Old Faithful Lodge, Lake Lodge and Mammoth Hotel. Wi-Fi service will still be allowed in other hotels and general stores.

Yellowstone will also attempt to educate visitors on cell phone etiquette with "courtesy signing and protocols" that "focus on increasing the distance between visitors enjoying the natural soundscapes and those using cell phones by designating 'cell phone free' zones where possible," according to a summary of the plan.

The plan also includes removing communications equipment from the fire lookout structure on Mt. Washburn and relocating it to an unobtrusive alternative; and relocating cell phone infrastructure from Bunsen Peak to Elk Plaza.

More on  cell phones National Parks

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