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Yellowstone National Park: No Cellphone Towers in Campgrounds or Recommended Wilderness, Limits on Wi-Fi


Yellowstone officials: No Wi-Fi at the Old Faithful Inn. Kurt Repanshek photo.

Yellowstone National Park officials, in an effort to limit electronic intrusions in the park, are banning cellphone towers in campgrounds and recommended wilderness and limiting wireless access in some hotels.

Additionally, they say they will work to relocate the existing cell tower at Old Faithful and to reduce the visual impacts of cell equipment on Mount Washburn.

The restrictions, which some might find too stringent and others not stringent enough, come amid the explosion of electronic communications, whether by cellphone or the Internet.

"Wireless communications in Yellowstone will be allowed in very limited areas to provide for visitor safety and to enhance park operations," park officials said Monday in releasing the plan. "The plan restricts towers, antennas, and wireless services to a few limited locations in the park in order to protect park resources and limit the impact on park visitors."

Yellowstone last fall released an environmental assessment on the proposal to erect more cell towers in the park. You can find that document, which later had changes integrated to reflect public comments, at this site.

Plans addressing wireless communications have been completed or are under way at other National Park Service sites, including Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada and Arizona, and Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC.

Yellowstone's plan prohibits cell towers in recommended wilderness, in campgrounds, or along park road corridors. No cell phone service will be allowed in the vast majority of Yellowstone. Cell service is currently limited to the immediate vicinity of Canyon, Grant Village, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Old Faithful. The park would accept proposals to establish cell service for the Fishing Bridge/Lake Village area.

In Yellowstone, "Park concessioners would be allowed to offer Wi-Fi service in some buildings. In response to comments, Wi-Fi will be prohibited in the Old Faithful Inn and the Lake Hotel in order to preserve the historic lodging experience. Concession operators will be permitted to offer Wi-Fi service in other park lodging and general stores."

The plan also calls for Yellowstone to actively promote the courteous and respectful use of cell phones and Wi-Fi devices and to establish and sign "cell phone free zones" in the park.


This is backwards. So what am I to do if I get lost in the "wilderness". I guess that $200 cell phone won't get me rescued. They call that historic, I guess? I call it stupid and dangerous.

You're absolutely right...this is the 21st century. Old Faithful Inn is not wilderness and why should I not be allowed to internet in the privacy of my own room? Did they have a problem with phones 100 years ago...I'd bet not.

No Wi-Fi at Old Faithful Inn? I think they're going a little too far here, telling people what they can and cannot do in the privacy of their own hotel room, which they've paid a lot of money for. If you don't like Wi-Fi at Old Faithful... then don't use it!

If we really want to preserve the historic character of staying at the Inn in that way, why don't we rip out the central heating?

I am also one of those people who is on call 24/7/365. Not life-threatening on-call, but professionally required to be contactable. It doesn't happen that often in off hours, but when it does, it's my responsibility to be available. So while I would not try to get coverage for either on a true wilderness experience, I would have to choose recreational activities based on these being available or reasonably accessible. A hotel with AC, hot water, and modern equipment doesn't get any less historical because there are telecommunication waves floating about that some of us may consume from time to time.

In fact, wifi service is much easier to hide away than all of those other services.

Yes, there will be obliviots who spend their entire experience chatting with their friends about how bored they are, but so are the idiots who experience their entire visit behind a video camera lens. Perhaps all cameras should be banned, too?

I understand limiting the number of cell phone towers to preserve the natural look of the park but it seems like there is a safety issue with restricting people's access to communications. Perhaps the best way to go, if your hiking through the park is to rent a satellite phone. [There are many online sources.] They're not as expensive as they use to be and you could just keep it handy for emergency purposes.

There is definitely a lot of misunderstanding of what this plan actually calls for and what the existing reality is as far as cell phone service (and it can depend on your carrier, too). The only really annoying thing to me about this remains the restriction of wi-fi to "historic" buildings that are already serviced by cell phone towers.

What I am interested in, though, is for people to talk more about the many contradictions about the Yellowstone experience. You drive 3,000 miles to Yellowstone (or 100 in my case), and then suddenly you think you can act as though you are in the middle of nowhere when in fact it takes a lot of technology and support to allow your visit to take place. We are creating something of an illusion, aren't we? So, I don't understand or am at least amused by the ways people get upset on both sides of their vision of the illusion. I mean, "Have the cell towers, but hide them into the landscape." How 21st century Frank Lloyd Wright! Great, I'm for it, but there's an absurdity just lurking in all this, in all these discussions, in all our visits, and there always has been since just before Yellowstone was founded (and I say just before because those "discovery" voyages into the park were really - for most of the participants (I wouldn't have called Truman Everts' experience lost and starving for 40 days exactly the typical tourist experience) - were grand tourist trips, cloaking the reality of a pristine wilderness that's not quite what we imagine.

We bring ourselves into Yellowstone; I think that's all for the best ... but what would be even better is if we acknowledged that and crafted policy acknowledging it (it's not what you see on the nature shows; it's not Disneyland, either -- it's all that and more). Personally, I'd like to see less of almost everything, but if we are going to have more of some things (like communications tools), I don't want to see unnecessary and pointless restrictions in implementing them toward a non-existent, fanciful ideal (like protecting the historical character of the Old Faithful Inn ... give me a break; that's been long and continually compromised and misses the whole point of the place).

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

You know what the great thing is? There is no cell phone service or internet connection at Norris Juntion. Nor is there power at the campfire circle. The rangers actually have to engage the visitors without power points or slide shows. It's great. Last summer, one of the seasonal naturalists there was a concert violinist. He brougt his instrument to his talk, one concentrating on the history of the park. Every once in awhile, he would say something like "the military was here. They always had a fiddler." Then he played a fiddle tune. Or, "the park employees put on evening programs. These are the songs they would have played." The people were captivated. I have seen scores of evening programs. This was one of the most unique I have seen.

Rick Smith

This is not a ban. They simply are not going to go out of their way to make cell phone service available. Such as it should be. How is it that millions of people have safely visited Yellowstone over the past 130 years without cell phone service? The last thing Yellowstone needs is cell towers all over the place and people yaking on phones. My nephew visited from California a couple of years ago, and all I remember was him on his phone constantly talking to work. Supposed to be on vacation! People like that should be happy that there are still a few places where they have an excuse: "Hey, I didn't have any service!!"
As it is (and will apparently continue to be) cell service IS available in a lot of areas: I get service in Mammoth, from Mammath to Blacktail, Tower Junction to Slough Creek, Pepple Creek to Cook City; Mammoth about half way to Norris, about halfway to Canyon to Canyon; parts of Hayden Valley, quite a bit around the Lake, all around Old Faithful, Grant Villiage to the Tetons (with some dropouts and dead areas, and the entire West Entrance road. I have called my wife while hiking in Pelican Valley, Hayden Valley, Snow Pass, The Yellowstone River Trail, Avalanche Peak, Trout Lake and a few other back country spots. All of this using a six year old TracPhone. The Park Service has absolutely made the right decision here.

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