By Roger O’Neil Correspondent
NBC News
updated 11/1/2005 9:39:48 PM ET 2005-11-02T02:39:48

In an idyllic place like a park, is there a place for the often a nuisance, sometimes a godsend, always present cell phone? That question is sparking debate in the National Park Service.

Do you really want to hear cell phones in the park?

In 16 national parks, including Yellowstone, there are cell phone towers. Back east, to get cell service to Delaware Water Gap, two companies want to build eight separate towers. With no national policy, Superintendent John Donahue is trying to balance “plugged in” with the solitude of “tuning out.”

“Those are the kinds of things people are concerned about... having to listen to other people's cell phones in the woods,” says Donahue.

Which is why Jeff Ruch and his public watchdog group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, generally oppose cell towers.

“People go to national parks to see nature, not antennas,” says Ruch.

It’s been said national parks are cathedrals to nature — where man is a visitor, not a conqueror. A musician once said the greatest sound of all is the sound of utter and complete silence.

There is, of course, the “if-it-saves-one-life argument,” for which Scott Kennett from Colorado is a poster child.

Skiing where he shouldn’t have been last winter, Kennett broke his leg.

“Thank God I had my cell phone,” he says. “It would have been a real hairball situation without a quick rescue.”

The cornerstone of national parks has always been “the call of nature.” Now “the call of the cell phone” joins the landscape.

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