Cellphone Towers In Yellowstone National Park: A Flaw In The National Park Service Mission?

When the National Park Service was created nearly a century ago, its mission seemed straightforward: to preserve the landscape for the enjoyment of today's and tomorrow's generations. As the agency nears its centennial, is there a need to recommit to that mission?

Those who believe so might point to ever-increasing fees across the National Park System, efforts to create deeper channels for boats at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and ongoing snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park.

But there also are groups that believe the Park Service should indeed re-examine its mission statement and focus a bit more on recreation in the parks and working with businesses that reflect an element of the human landscape in the parks, such as the oyster farm at Point Reyes National Seashore.

If you follow the writings and musings of Michael Frome, the man whom the late Gaylord Nelson said had no literary peer when it came to arguing for "a national ethic of environmental stewardship," you'll sense his belief that the Park Service needs to focus more on the environmental landscape of the park system.

That message was inherent in Mr. Frome's recent thoughts on the approval of a cellphone tower near Lake in Yellowstone.

Cellphone service originating from inside the boundaries of Yellowstone has been limited to the Mammoth, Old Faithful, Canyon, Tower-Roosevelt, and Grant developed areas. The Lake developed area is the one additional location in the park where park managers determined cellphone coverage could be added under the park’s 2008 Wireless Communications Services Plan Environmental Assessment and its associated Finding of No Significant Impact.

In July the park received permission to erect a tower near Lake. The new cellular site is to be located next to a buried water tank on a 100-foot rise above the Lake Administrative Area and 700 feet below the top of the Elephant Back Ridge. This site already has access via an existing service road and is near existing electric and phone lines. Antennas will be configured to minimize spillover coverage into Yellowstone’s backcountry.

In the September edition of his Portogram, Mr. Frome laments that decision.

"Changes made in response to comments were incorporated into a Finding of No Significant Impact. No significant impact — so the park administrators said. As they see it, the developed areas, with electric wires, phone lines, lots of automobiles, gas stations, hotels, commercial gift shops and sewage treatment, are 'sacrifice areas,' otherwise known as popcorn playgrounds or tourist ghettos," he writes.

"Before coming, you think of Yellowstone the way it is in the nature series on television. The Park Service tells you to unplug your ears and connect with nature — but when you arrive you can check your e-mail, the state of your stocks, and feel the conveniences of home," continues Mr. Frome. "Perhaps park administrators might have chosen not to allow those towers in the first place. They might have determined this was a strictly commercial service using public resources and public land, and that the signals the towers emit can spill into and pollute hiking trails away from developed areas.

"They might have decided that since hotels in the park get along without television, they can make it without wireless Internet service. When people come to Yellowstone, it’s one of the special times in their lives. They want to hear the splash of geysers and feel themselves in harmony with natural forces that over the centuries created the thermal features, peaks and canyons. That is what they come here for, and not having that sound drowned out by somebody conversing via cell phone."

As Mr. Frome goes on to argue against the cell tower, he says national parks "are presumed preserved to reflect the original America. Many National Park Service personnel want it that way. They care deeply, feeling their mission is to encourage us to embrace a lifestyle that treads lightly on the earth, and that doing so adds richness to all of our lives. They ought to be able to defend their park areas from overuse and misuse with a clear conscience. To deplete or degrade the visible physical resource does something to the invisible spirit of place as well."

To further drive home that point, Mr. Frome points to Zane Grey's 1925 book, The Vanishing American, in which "Nophaie most loved to be alone, out in the desert, 'listening to the real sounds of the open and to the whispering of his soul.”

"In short," Mr. Frome concludes in his column, "instead of treating a national park like any other place, the park professionals ought to say, 'If you can’t do without your cellphone or laptop or tablet, don’t come here!'”


I agree 100%-- and any and all Gameboy or similar devices should be confiscated from every kid upon entry.LOL

[= 14px; line-height: 18px]"'In short,' Mr. Fromme concludes in his column, 'instead of treating a national park like any other place, the park professionals ought to say, "If you can’t do without your cellphone or laptop or tablet, don’t come here!"'"[/]

[= 14px; line-height: 18px]Gosh, that's a snobbish statement. Mr. Fromme says all visitors go to Yellowstone to hear hot springs and see wildlife, not to connect to cell phones. That's an awfully broad brush to say "everyone thinks this way." Not so.[/]

Having Yellowstone as the "original America" means no ice cream shops and no souvenir stands either. Maybe some people would like this too.

I don't see a problem with this. The tower is placed next to existing infrastructure, below the skyline, and provides services people use routinely. Arguing against this, is like arguing against roads, campgrounds, or stores.

There is a difference between a National Park that "preserves the unimpaired natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations" and a National Wildlife Refuge System that is established to protect the wildlife.

You already have lodging and eating facilities onsite. This is not wilderness. The cell tower is needed for public safety reasons, imo, as there is a lot of bear activity around the lake as well as the potential for watercraft emergencies should a remote canoe tip and there be someone with hypothermia or a camper across the lake with a sharp or blunt force injury. It's not like they're putting it up on top of a nearby peak and building a service road up to it!

Michael Frome's remarks about Park visitors are the stuff of simple, ol' time misanthropy. His unlaundered psychic underwear is showing, with these derisive comments about people.

"When the National Park Service was created nearly a century ago, its mission seemed straightforward: to preserve the landscape for the enjoyment of today's and tomorrow's generations."

The NPS was created by the Organic Act of 1916. This is the document that the Centennial will celebrate, 3 years hence. It in only one page long.

While the Organic Act of 1916 does direct the Service to "conserve the scenery", it also makes clear - quite emphatically - that this scenery is for the enjoyment of the people. It explicitly stipulates & directs that modifications & facilities will be installed & maintained, to provide for this enjoyment.

The idea that others should be excluded (or at least demeaned), in order to foster our own sense of solitude (etc), involves a gaping logical hole you could park the Grand Canyon in.

One glance at that Organic Act of 1916 will be sufficient to remind us, that Parks were & are about making the scenery (etc) available to ALL the people .... and that barring or clearing out the popcorn & playground crowd was never the plan or idea.

But Ted, the key intent of the Organic Act, to preserve the landscapes within the park system, has been supported by the courts time and again.

Professor Robert Keiter, who long has studied and written about the parks, made just that point in his latest book (which I need to review), To Conserve Unimpaired, The Evolution of the National Park Idea.

The national park idea embodies our commitment to nature conservation, itself a matter of ongoing controversy. Forged at a time when the nation's principal goal was to subdue nature and populate the continent, the national park idea ran counter to these goals; it held that our natural heritage was important enough to preserve intact for the benefit of present and future generations. Congress soon translated this sentiment into the Organic Act, employing the language of conservation, promotion, enjoyment, and non-impairment, a terminology that has set the standard for our nature conservation efforts ever since.

There's much more in the book to support that notion, and I'll return to it in the coming weeks.

For a good historian's interpretation of the Organic Act, and the intent of its authors, read this piece by the late Robin Winks, who spent 45 years at Yale University.

Here, so everyone can read if firsthand, is the entire act:

Sixty-fourth Congress of the United States of America;
At the First Session,

Begun and held at the City of Washington on Monday, the sixth day of December, one thousand nine hundred and fifteen. _____________

To establish a National Park Service, and for other purposes


Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there is hereby created in the Department of the Interior a service to be called the National Park Service, which shall be under the charge of a director, who shall be appointed by the Secretary and who shall receive a salary of $4,500 per annum. There shall also be appointed by the Secretary the following assistants and other employees at the salaries designated: One assistant director, at $2,500 per annum; one chief clerk, at $2,000 per annum; one draftsman, at $1,800 per annum; one messenger, at $600 per annum; and, in addition thereto, such other employees as the Secretary of the Interior shall deem necessary: Provided, That not more than $8,100 annually shall be expended for salaries of experts, assistants, and employees within the District of Columbia not herein specifically enumerated unless previously authorized by law. The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations hereinafter specified by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

Sec. 2. That the director shall, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, have the supervision, management, and control of the several national parks and national monuments which are now under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior, and of the Hot Springs Reservation in the State of Arkansas, and of such other national parks and reservations of like character as may be hereafter created by Congress: Provided, That in the supervision, management, and control of national monuments contiguous to national forests the Secretary of Agriculture may cooperate with said National Park Service to such extent as may be requested by the Secretary of the Interior.

Sec. 3. That the Secretary of the Interior shall make and publish such rules and regulations as he may deem necessary or proper for the use and management of the parks, monuments, and reservations under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, and any violations of any of the rules and regulations authorized by this Act shall be punished as provided for in section fifty of the Act entitled "An Act to codify and amend the penal laws of the United States," approved March fourth, nineteen hundred and nine, as amended by section six of the Act of June twenty-fifth, nineteen hundred and ten (Thirty-sixth United States Statues at Large, page eight hundred and fifty-seven). He may also, upon terms and conditions to be fixed by him, sell or dispose of timber in those cases where in his judgment the cutting of such timber is required in order to control the attacks of insects or diseases or otherwise conserve the scenery or the natural or historic objects in any such park, monument, or reservation. He may also provide in his discretion for the destruction of such animals and of such plant life as may be detrimental to the use of any of said parks, monuments, or reservations. He may also grant privileges, leases, and permits for the use of land for the accommodation of visitors in the various parks, monuments, or other reservations herein provided for, but for periods not exceeding twenty years; and no natural curiosities, wonders, or objects of interest shall be leased, rented, or granted to anyone on such terms as to interfere with free access to them by the public: Provided, however, That the Secretary of the Interior may, under such rules and regulations and on such terms as he may prescribe, grant the privilege to graze live stock within any national park, monument, or reservation herein referred to when in his judgment such use is not detrimental to the primary purpose for which such park, monument, or reservation was created, except that this provision shall not apply to the Yellowstone National Park.

Sec. 4. That nothing in this Act contained shall affect or modify the provisions of the Act approved February fifteenth, nineteen hundred and one, entitled "An Act relating to rights of way through certain parks, reservations, and other public lands."

Speaker of the House of Representatives

Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate

Approved 25 August 1916 (handwritten)

Woodrow Wilson (signature)

Is the director still paid only $4500 per annum? If you go back and read Horace Albright's book, The Birth of the National Park Service : The Founding Years, 1913-33 you might learn a lot of interesting things. This Act, and most of the parks it protects are, like most other stuff produced by Congress in the last couple hundred years, a hodge-podge of responses to special interests, a whole lot of political infighting and, of course, money. Likewise, nearly every Congressional action related to national parks since 1916 have also been battles between forces vying for control of our parks - whether they are those who see potential dollar signs in every tree or rock and those who see beauty and wonder. Happily, beauty and wonder seem to be doing pretty well. At least for now . . .

I look forward to your review of Prof. Keiter's new book, Kurt, and to your ongoing treatment of the important themes I'm sure it does address.

No doubt, courts do have a vital role in interpreting Laws, such as the Organic Act of 1916. And, Congress does modify previously passed laws, and creates new ones that impact former ones. These factors - and others - play big roles in the legal & cultural underpinnings of our National Parks and related resources.

I will read the reference you link, by Robert Wink, later today. The "intent of its authors" sounds especially interesting ... and that is key, as we've seen with high-profile Constitutional questions, recently. (And sometimes, "intentions" turn out to have been unworthy, or irrelevant ...)

Yeah, we have to recognize that phrases & quotes from a century-old Act might have been tweaked in the time since ... and this Act shows plenty of signs of having been a pretty rough/preliminary draft, originally.

Rhetorically, I favor the opposing philosophical view to Robert Keiter's, seeing the glass half full, vs half empty. There is more to be gained in learning to love & embrace the impaired, the flawed & compromised, than in cleaving only unto the sublime. All resources are, after all, impaired & encumbered - including the finest & largest Alaska Parks. And it cuts both ways; while even the most soaring Park-concepts end up dragged kicking back to earth, so too even our homeliest non-protected resources also offer some seriously cool Park-like values & roles. Throughout the Western USA, Canada and Alaska, vast resources are available on an impaired basis. We could truly take the imperfect above & beyond anything the 'old-school' pure-Park idea will ever deliver.

For example, our vast commercial timberlands across the West are often so ignored & disdained, they can offer a solitude & serenity that official Parks are hard-put to match. While a million or few flock to Olympic National Park, a bare few thousand venture into the approximately equal Olympic timberlands. This theme can be pursued & developed in many directions and on many levels. But it can only happen, by accepting imperfections.

Or put another way, Parks can be made part of a greater imperfect whole, but the vast imperfect 'working habitat' can't be made part of Parks. Which might be what some are hoping for...

The debate here offers another fine example of why the National Park Service cannot get a grip on its centennial. As a venerable agency, it knows what it is SUPPOSED to do; however, as a modern bureaucracy it consistently fails to achieve it. Robin Winks (and Michael Frome) are right. There was never a contradiction in the enabling act; "preservation" still precedes "enjoyment." Example. In an art museum, preservation of the art precedes our right to "enjoy" it in any way we want. I cannot touch the art; I can only look at it. In most cases, I cannot photograph it without permission nor is the use of flash allowed. Do those rules somehow "impair" my enjoyment? Only if I have come unprepared to enjoy the art. Every day, and in every way, people enter the national parks unprepared to enjoy them without the baggage of modern society.

Michael does not hate the human race; he just believes in simple rules. Make a choice; make a decision. Only in fiction can we "have it all."

Frankly, I don't care if there is a cell phone tower at Old Faithful; it just completes the picture of total abuse. Why not? There is a four-lane highway and a freeway-style interchange; the massive parking lot destroys every sense of solitude. What difference does the cell phone tower make? It already looks like Wal-Mart, so why not? Again, this is why the Park Service stumbles and bumbles on so many occasions, the centennial being just the latest example of tripping up. How can it celebrate an environment more reminiscent of Wal-Mart when its job is something else? And so it looks to its committees--and like the modern university--substitutes enabling for agency discipline. If we can just find the right cliche, perhaps the public will forgive us. Unfortunately, the end result of enabling is always to find the undisciplined public. The lowest common denominator of "enjoyment"--yes, use your flash bulbs! touch the art!--becomes the norm for all.

How in God's name did we ever survive without our cell phones, laptops, and ipads? Having been born before all of them were invented, I can assure you we survived just fine. In an emergency, we knew to put up a smoke signal or use our flashlights to signal SOS. Search and rescue always found us; somehow, idiot behavior does stand out. You know what will happen when we "make that call" from Lake, or Mammoth, or Old Faithful. "Hi, Mom! We are here! Yeah, Old Faithful is about to blow! Why I am shouting? Because everyone else is shouting. They're on their cell phones, too! Hey, let me get a picture for you! But wait. The ranger says it's still 30 minutes off. Who's got that kindda time? We have reservations waiting in West Yellowstone. Gotta come back tomorrow, Mom. Sorry, bye for now!"

You think I'm making it up? That is exactly the conversation I overheard in 2008. Again, bring on the cell phone towers. Why not?

Alfred Runte on September 21, 2013 - 12:36pm said;

"There was never a contradiction in the enabling act; "preservation" still precedes "enjoyment."

The Organic Act of 1916 uses the word "conserve", not preserve. At the time, and for many decades thereafter, Conservation and Preservation were 2 very well-defined, and competing visions of how stewardship should proceed.

Conserve meant to "touch"; to use, but to husband, renew and manage responsibly. Logging the forest is consistent with Conservation(ism), so long as it is done with sustainability in view. Preservation(ism) means to put the forest behind glass, and regulate flash bulbs.

Kurt mentions above, that Robin Wink explores the intent of the authors of the Organic Act. In using the word "conserve", and not the word "preserve", the intent of the Act is spelled out: We will touch the resource. It is crucial to know & be clear, just what "conserve" meant, at the beginning of the 20th C.

I know that many today confuse or are unaware of the difference between Conservationism and Preservationism. This is a problem, but it's really 'their problem'. But since Alfred Runte knows about smokes-signals, he probably knows about this distinction, and what it signifies.

Very interesting, Ted. In all these years and all the times I've read the act, the word "conserve" never jumped out at me. I guess I must have memorized it as "preserve" and so always read it that way.

Never too old to learn, I guess.

Oh yeah, Lee, there is quite the weird thing going with these words/names.

Today, people talking-up an environmental topic normally call whatever they espouse, "conservation", although in most cases it's straighforward "preservation". It's ok to use the root "preserve", after the subject has been labelled as conservation: "Polar bear conservation efforts have acted to preserve Arctic ecosystems".

Grizzly bear stocks are a correct example of conservation, because they are managed for use (hunts, etc). Polar bear management is actually a case of preservation, pure 'n simple: Look, but don't touch. And the Arctic ecosystem overall is managed to "conserve", not "preserve" it. Uh-huh.

A big part of this is just 'PR'. Polls tells environmentalists that the public does not react well to the word "preservation". So they conflate the negatively-receive preservation that they do, with the approved conservation, which they don't.

Another part of this language-weirdness, is that modern-day environmentalists themselves do not like conservation, on various levels & counts. So it 'works' for them, to hear standard preservation refered to as conservation. They take their opponent's name, and thus quasi-'disappear' them.

... Yet, true Conservation organizations are the 800 pound gorillas of environmentalism, today. Go figure. ;)

Okay. Enough with the hair-splitting. Here is what Webster's says: con.ser.va.tion 1: a careful preservation and protection of something; esp: planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect 2 the preservation of a physical quantity during transformations or reactions con.serve 1 to keep in a safe or sound state, esp to avoid wasteful or destructive use of (~ natural resources). the remaing meanings refer to canning fruits and berries, etc. pre.serve 1. to keep safe from injury, harm, or destruction: PROTECT. The hair-splitting between conserve and preserve was directly due to Gifford Pinchot. He was looking for a way to get his hands on the national parks. We also call it the National Park Service because Gifford Pinchot (and Henry Graves) objected to the word Bureau. The National Parks Bureau should not sound more prestigious than the U.S. Forest Service (park advocates had wanted a bureau). The point remains: In the Organic Act, the ideal of protection precedes the ideal of public use. Call it conservation; call it preservation; call it whatever you want. The national parks (conservation) are not supposed to bend to "destructive use" or (preservation) be openly injured or harmed.

Can we honestly say that we have either "conserved" or "preserved" our national parks? In using them (allowed by both terms), have we always used them wisely? Have we enjoyed them without impairing them, or have we also turned the word impairment on its ear? Robin Winks was right. Our obligation to protect the parks imbues every method we choose to enjoy them. Now that we have chosen to enjoy them electronically, that may not impair the landscape. But it will diminish our fondness for the landscape by adding another distraction in a world that already has distraction enough. Every time we nibble at the parks to allow our self-indulgence, yes, we break faith with the Organic Act.

Alfred Runte -

Thank you. Well said!

[Alfred, before I reply here ... your book, Yosemite: The Embattled Wilderness is misfile as Rustic Architecture 1916 - 1942, on the NPS History index page.]

While the dictionary is a valuable tool, it won't take one far as a history reference. The Environmental Movement, of which our National Parks are an important expression, does have an extensive history, and it does divide into competing Conservation and Preservation camps. For those who would like to take their command of the topic beyond Websters, the same NPS History index also contains a link to:

Selected Events in the Development of the American Conservation Movement, 1847-1920

The link is on the NPS History page, but this document is on the Library of Congress website. It contains many links to relevant sub-topics.

Conservation was the original idea, which the public got behind to ultimately enable the enactment of new laws creating Parks and other forms of protection. Some in the greater Environmental movement were not satisfied with continuing utilization/exploitation of resources, even when done responsibly, and they advocated for a "Look but don't touch" Preservation form of the movement. The public never bought into this well, and now activists have largely reverted to the Conservation name, while pushing for Preservation policies.

Excellent comment, Dr. Runte. Thank you.

Alfred Runte,

I am addressing you, in the manner you identify yourself, but I became curious, seeing others refer to you as Dr. I'm a good researcher...

It is one thing that it turns out you hold an advanced degree as a Historian, and I effectively lectured you on the discipline. The facts were unknown to me, and it was unintentional.

But it is another thing, that academia does not equally value & reward all those who acquire professional status & credentials.

In my experience, Sir, this is often a reflection of limits & foibles within the institution, and tends not to correlate with the qualifications, value or contributions of the individual. That appears to have been the case here.

Personally ... those of my instructors & professors who found it necessary to keep close tabs on the petroleum industry employment scene, or cultivate a base at an odd Liberal Arts school ... typically were the people who made being on campus & in the classroom worthwile for myself and other students.

I look forward to exchanging views & exploring topics with you, here on the Traveler.


Is this another battle of the moderns and the ancients? It's always the same dialogue between those who espouse a view that parks should only be enjoyed the way they've always been and those (like me) who are okay with a bit of change so long as it does not really impact the central goal of conserving those landscapes.

Clearly, that lone antenna won't damage the landscape. Frankly, if that antenna happens to harm your solitude or enjoyment of the park, I only see two solutions: 1) staying home in your room where nobody will interfere with your solitude or 2) hike further in the park to see less people.

Moderns versus ancients is right. If you are bothered by the antenna then we should have requested that they hid it better. If you do not like to hear people talk on their phones, go take a hike, literally, go take a hike and within minutes you are away from the crowd. My kids rarely talk on their phones because a text is easier for their friends to respond when they can. I also wondered about Sec. 3 of the Act when it says; "He may also grant privileges, leases, and permits for the use of land for the accommodation of visitors in the various parks, monuments,..." is cellular service an accomodation of visitors. The last sentance of section 3 says excludes Yellowstone but I am not sure if that refers to the whole section or just grazing livestock.

Furthermore, the Act is not a bible that's set in stone. It should be, and it is already, reinterpreted over time.

You were going good until that one Zeb. Laws - like our constitution - shouldn't be "reinterpreted" They should be follow to the wording and original spirit and intent. If that original spirit and intent is no longer desired - then change the laws, don't redefine what they mean as it takes too few to "reinterpret".

You were going good until that one Zeb. Laws - like our constitution - shouldn't be "reinterpreted" They should be follow to the wording and original spirit and intent. If that original spirit and intent is no longer desired - then change the laws, don't redefine what they mean as it takes too few to "reinterpret".

I'm pretty happy that the Constitution was "reinterpreted" so that Brown v. Board of Ed is the law of land, not Plessy v. Ferguson. (The Constitution is always being interpeted and reinterpreted; it's the very reason we have a Supreme Court.)

it's the very reason we have a Supreme Court

No Justin, we have the Supreme Court to apply the law of the land, not to make new law. You might want to check into the "separation of powers". But then that may prove nonsensical to you.

not to make new law

Who said anything about "mak[ing] new law"?

Who said anything about making new law?

That is exactly what "reinterpretation" is in most cases. I will use your example. As preferable as the outcome of "Brown vs Educations" may be, that is not what either the 13th or 14th amendments called for. That result should have been gained through new Constitutional amendments or law not judicial activisim.

The examples of such "law" by the Supreme Ct is rampet including the total perversion of the commerce clause.

Sorry Kurt - Justin led us off topic and I followed. I'll end it here.

. . . that is not what either the 13th or 14th amendments called for.

But that's just another competing "interpretation" of the Constitution, which is what the Supreme Court does.

(And no, ec, I didn't lead us off topic. You introduced constitutionality in your response to Zeb. I'm not sure it's entirely off-topic, given the subtext of legal language in this thread, but it may indeed be too tangential to the conversation. )

In an attempt to steer the conversation back to the Organic Act, I'd like to observe an undercurrent to the comments that I often see on this site. The Organic Act is indeed subject to much interpretation, as is any law that is so simple. It is inevitiable that it is, to some extent , a "living document", a product of the present culture. But we can also look to the "spirit and intent."

The Organic Act is a product of the early 20th century, a time when there was a growing reaction to modernity, to the congestion, crowding, and filth of the cities in which more and more of the population resided, to the increasing speed, striving, and materialism of modern life. The Act is as much a product of Niagara Falls (which many considered an embarassment because of its crass commercialism; a national treasure besmirched...) as it is of Hetch Hetchy and the lumber barons.

For many in the Park Service, the presumption is that, in order to "provide for the enjoyment" of the natural and historic objects and scenery, the Service needs to maintain the parks in something resembling their undeveloped condition- without the crowds, congestion, development, noise, and commercialism of the city- so that present and future generations can have the space and the silence and the peace to actually enjoy those things being preserved. That the parks should be a refuge from, and an antidote (if not an antipode) to the excesses of civilization. This idea is reflected in NPS policy, and is the central point of contention in many of the debates about park management.

Those who don't feel this way tend to think that those who oppose , say, a commercial bike race in Colorado NM, are opposed to all commercial activities, or that a desire to prevent crowding in Yosemite Valley, or a cell tower in Yellowstone that enables the hyper-connected modern lifestyle, is somehow misanthropic or anti-democratic or "elitist." This is intellectually dishonest- the argument is only to limit such things in a tiny percentage of the country- the 1 % or less that is designated as National Parks. They are not arguing that such conditions or activities are ot appropriate elsewhere.

As with most contentious topics, this is sometimes best understood as a spirtual or moral issue. Many think of the parks as spiritual places, and the aforementioned elements of the modern, hectic, urbanized life as a profanation of that sacred space. Certainly such language was used in the Hetch hetchy debate that helped frame the Act.

I also have to laugh at the notion that erecting a cell tower is somehow misanthropic, as though it actually "excludes" anyone. What a pathetic vision of modern humanity! We brave sons of the pioneers can't even canoe across a lake without an electronic umbilical cord back to the sheltering mama of the modern security network. Sheesh!

Calling out the fact that national parks represents only 1% of the total surface is intellectual dishonest as it is completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

The fact that Marmot calls this debate a spiritual issue really speaks volumes. National Parks are not a church, even though it seems that some poor lost souls have taken to the parks as some kind of new age church... And that's why no rational amount of discussion can be had. One cannot reason with faith!

Happy worshipping. :)

Marmot, thank you for a truly refreshing bit of good sense well written. I truly pity those who cannot understand what happens in the heart when a person is fortunate enough to stand in a high place and see nothing but beauty and majesty all around. Worshiping? No. Awestruck is more like it.

I actually am not one sided on this subject. I feel I am one who is awestruck at the majesty and beauty, but do not mind cell service in the areas of so many other services. I still feel the cell towers could have been camoflaged (rather than just a tower). But does this mean in undeveloped parts of the park they will erect towers? Probably not.

Sorry, Zeb. When I lived in Seattle, I considered Mt. Rainier the closest thing to a cathedral in my life. Even when I was in the city, turning a corner and the peak of the mountain suddenly appearing gave me a lift and, pardon the woowoo, recharged my spirits. If you want to pat me on the head and call me a 'poor lost soul', go ahead and do whatever helps you to feel better about your own self.

On the practical side of things, I'm retired after 20+ years of involvement in nursing and EMS. I like the idea of cell access for emergencies, and think that the technology is readily available to create a tower that blends in and appears to be just another tree.

I enjoy great landscapes as much as the next guy, but I don't assign it a church like value. This is clearly the result of our puritanical past.

I enjoy great landscapes as much as the next guy, but I don't assign it a church like value. This is clearly the result of our puritanical past.

The Puritans seemed to have felt the exact opposite about nature. It was a realm a fallen-ness.

I also have to laugh at the notion that erecting a cell tower is somehow misanthropic, as though it actually "excludes" anyone. What a pathetic vision of modern humanity! We brave sons of the pioneers can't even canoe across a lake without an electronic umbilical cord back to the sheltering mama of the modern security network. Sheesh!
First - your words don't seem to describe your overall position. You seem to be talking about erecting a tower as being misanthropic, although your overall tone seems to be that denying one would be.

Our modern national parks have areas which are primitive by design, but modern technology is heavily used by NPS. They've got state of the art visitor centers using the latest insulating and heating/cooling technologies. They've got brand new photovoltaic solar panels to supplement their electrical needs. At Little Yosemite Valley they've got an outhouse using state of the art computer controlled fans to help break down human waste as well as keep the odors low. Anyone going backpacking is more or less required to use food storage canisters made of modern materials, machined with modern CNC equipment.

I've been out there. Most are wearing modern clothing - mostly state of the art synthetics. They're carrying SPOT beacons, GPS units, microprocessor controlled cameras, UV water sterilizers, chemical water treatments, ceramic water filters, boots made with the latest synthetic materials, etc. Backpackers are carrying solar-powered charging systems to recharge their devices. The climbers going up El Cap are using anodized high-strength aluminum gear, high-tech ropes, and nylon-webbing harnesses. That canoe you mention is probably aluminum, or possibly a plastic kayak designed with the latest computer-aided design software and molded on the latest computer-controlled molding equipment.

The modern world is already out there, and it enables people to visit these places in ways that would have been more difficult 30 years ago. These are developed areas that have mostly been developed for over a hundred years to serve visitors. Not everyone who visits these places wants to leave it all behind. It's certainly not Disneyland out there, but it doesn't have to be devoid of all modern conveniences. We're talking about a cell phone tower in the frontcountry - a place that's already wired up with high-speed fiber optic communications or in the process of being wired up.

b]Rick B.:
On the practical side of things, I'm retired after 20+ years of involvement in nursing and EMS. I like the idea of cell access for emergencies, and think that the technology is readily available to create a tower that blends in and appears to be just another tree.
I've seen that kind of disguising, and usually the efforts are pretty lame. Most attempts to disguise remind me of bad-looking artificial Christmas trees.

Now this one does it with a bit of panache and humor. I wish someone would actually do this in a real environment rather than just made of Lego pieces:

My misanthropy comment was in response to Mr. Clayton's assertion...

I certainly didn't mean to suggest that frontcountry areas of the parks be managed like designated wilderness. But I do think there is a level of urbanity that is not appropropriate in a park setting. Like waiting in a 2 1/2 hour long traffic jam in Yosemite Valley (caused strictly by crowding.) Or walking a trail (the Narrows trail in Zion) that was as crowded as a NY city sidewalk. There is a level of development, and crowding, and noise, and congestion, and commercialism beyond which one struggles to enjoy the natural objects, etc.

Now, of course, one can take steps to avoid such situations- that doesn't make them any more appropriate. The problem with issues like this cell tower is that it is indeed a small thing by itself. Such is the nature of these conditions- they arrive through creeping incrementalism. Each new restaurant, gift shop, parking space, or slight increase in visitation seems relatively harmless, but the cumulative effect leads to a degradation of the park experience.

I don't have a firm opinion on this cell tower- I don't have enough details or context to decide if it is necessary (how primitive or sophisticated the technology is doesn't really matter to me). Deciding what development is necessary, or what level of visitation is appropriate at peak times, is , of course the crux of the debate- a highly subjective matter. Usually the pro-development arguments are framed as "people need" or "people want" grocery stores, restaurants, gift shops, golf courses, showers, cell towers, etc. But will these developments enhance or degrade the "enjoyment" of the landscape? Are they necessary?

I for one am happy to take the small effort necessary to arrive in a park with a full tank of gas, a full larder of food, all the equipment necessary for my trip, and every thing I need to entertain myself. I am also quite willing, even elated, to endure a lottery or reservation system, and maybe not get to visit, if it means I can avoid the type of experiences noted above.

Safety is often used as an excuse for more development- such development may certainly be justified in some cases, but our modern society's risk tolerance has become so incredibly small that significant harm will come to the parks if we try to eliminate every risk everywhere. At some point we need declare the natural world a potentially hazardous place and let visitors accept, and manage a small amoount of risk.

Really, I don't want the last word in this debate, but I have been in Zion National Park until last night. Here, I predict, is what will happen if electronic messaging invades our national parks. Eventually, someone texting will "take out" a family of visitors, just as we "take out" one another on our highways now. Example: The lady on Interstate 15 who nearly ran into me while merging in St. George, even though I had pulled over to let her merge. She was on a cell phone and never "saw" me. Fortunately, I saw in the nick of time that she continued merging into my lane. When people are killed (if they haven't been already), what will the Park Service say? That the cell towers should not have been built? No, that the agency needs more protection rangers to hand out tickets, just as they now hand out speeding tickets all the time. Why? Because the roads were improved and people have enjoyed the "improvements," such as going 60 when the limit is 45. In Yellowstone, 100 large mammals every year pay the price of that. The Park Service's answer? Hand out a leaflet asking visitors to slow down.

Wrong. By design, parks are supposed to exact responsibility from every visitor, even as full access is allowed. The parks don't bend to US; WE bend to the parks, or what we have is exactly what we left behind. But yes, that is postmodern America, right? What the individual wants always goes. I want. ME first. Me, me, me! Whine, whine, whine! I want my cell phone, so the hell with you. If I kill you, it is not my fault. If I kill a bison in the park, well, we have lots. It is your fault (and the bison's) for having gotten in my way. So take a hike and please get out of my way. In the backcountry, you will find all the wilderness you could ever want. Wrong. Wilderness is supposed to begin at the boundary, not where you say the "boundary" is. If I want to see Old Faithful in peace and quiet, you are supposed to allow me that. "Unimpaired" begins at the gate.

As I said, your commentator nearly got taken out by a selfish driver on a cell phone, who merely flipped me off when I beeped my horn. I saved her car and my rental car (and perhaps someone's life), and all she could do was defend her selfishness. Coming to a national park near you--more selfishness and self-indulgence. In that case, you will pardon me for beeping my horn. If the landscape were truly unimpaired, no one should have to. In 1916, that is what our forebears pledged. How far we have come in breaking their pledge, now to forget what the pledge even meant.

Alfred Runte,

By pointing to the hazards of cellphones on the highways, we will also have to admit their utilitiy - and popularity & success - as a safety & rescue tool.

Legions of hikers etc have now been saved, because they had a cellphone with them.

Moms & Dads help their teens into backpacks at the trailhead, kiss them, and confirm; "Got your cellphone"?

Not only are lives saved in the bush, by cellphones, but they spare us much larger numbers of expensive & dangerous searches & rescues. For every cellphone call that sends official responders into the woods, there are 10 or 100 that enable another party (often mom, or sister, or friend) to calm the distressed caller, and assist them over the phone, in resolving their own predicament.

The cellphone has enabled self-rescue to come of age. Management are (belatedly ... sometimes 'kicking & screaming') now embracing this.


Marmot, We are already well past the point where 'reasonable risk' is tolerated in the national parks or anywhere else....At the point where a single individual is 'at risk', we mobilize heaven and earth to save them....is it preferable that we mobilize massive air and ground searches for an individual thought to be stuck on a remote mountainside...or we provide a means, as Ted Clayton details, where the wayward individual can reasonable secure his own future?

Cellphones are devices with the capacity for both good and not-so-good. We all use them, even those who think they don't belong in the parks. If you, with your full tank of gas and complete larder were to suddenly find yourself needing rescue, I suggest that you would really like to use the device in your pocket to save yourself....

The pros and cons of the discussion include two camps: those who see the benefits of cell service in places like Yellowstone when a visitor needs to summon help in an emergency, and those who see the intrusion and distractions in this special setting that result from seemingly constant phone conversations, text messaging and other techno communications.

So, one way to satify both camps is to program cell towers in the park to only accept 911 calls :-)

I see a third camp....I say let me have cell service in the areas where other services are. I can send and get electronic mail, check in with family, send a picture, look up info on the internet, use Chimani or send a text. I know some of you choose not to while on vacation, but I see this as a choice. I am sure someday the satellite phone will be affordable, but for now cell towers in the main service areas seems like it should be no big deal.


These folks are of the standard liberal ilk. They know how you should live your life better than you do. The fact that you sending a text from the backcountry doesn't disturb a soul - human or animal - makes no difference. They just don't think that is the way you should act in a park. And, because that is the way they think, it is the way you must act.

I'm bouncing back and forth from one side to the other in this debate. I do feel that if cell towers are placed discreetly in an unobtrusive manner, it shouldn't be much of a problem. On the other hand, I've had a couple of experiences in which I've found myself sitting next to a person carrying on a conversation that is loud and sometimes so filled with foul language that it makes me wonder what ever happened to intelligent vocabularies. At Old Faithful earlier this summer, I finally just got up and moved away from one such individual and then found myself admiring a gentleman who confronted the foul-mouth and successfully shamed him into shutting up.

Then, when I read something like this from this morning's NPS Morning Report, I see some real need for modern technology. Perhaps as Jim suggested above, programming systems to accept only 911 calls may be a helpful partial solution. Here's the morning report:

Big Bend National Park (TX)
Man Dies During Hike On Park Trail

Park dispatch received a report of a man having a heart attack on the Window Trail in the Chisos Mountains on September 24th. Unfortunately, the exact location could not be determined, so a full EMS/SAR response was launched involving both rangers and Border Patrol agents.

Approximately an hour later, the body of a 57-year-old Texas man was found near the highest point of the Oak Springs Trail. Two rangers on scene began CPR, but terminated resuscitation efforts after about 25 minutes.

The man and a hiking partner had been hiking the Window and Oak Springs trails when he began feeling nauseous, sat down and soon stopped breathing. His partner hiked out to the Oak Springs trailhead and informed another party member, who drove to the Panther Junction Visitor Center and notified the park.
[Submitted by Rick Roberts, West District Ranger]

I've found myself sitting next to a person carrying on a conversation that is loud and sometimes so filled with foul language that it makes me wonder what ever happened to intelligent vocabularies.

But how is that different than sitting next to two people carrying on a loud conversation other than it annoys you that you can't hear the otherside. Are we to outlaw talking in the parks? There are rude people in this world - outside and inside our parks. Walk away. There are plenty of spots in the park where noone is saying anything.

What ever happened to an old fashioned thing called "civility?" I'm old enough to remember a time when people were much more considerate of others than they are now. Dr. Runte had it right when he wrote about what I've come to call the Great American Entitlement Mentality.

On page 26 of Yellowstone's Wireless Plan Environmental Assessment is a map that illustrates where cell phone coverage would be under Alternative C, which was the preferred alternative. If you look at the map, you will see that not all of the road system in Yellowstone would have cell phone coverage. Most of the backcountry west of Old Faithful(i.e. Bechler, Cascade Corner), the South Arm of Yellowstone Lake and Southeast corner also would be out of cell range.


What ever happened to an old fashioned thing called "civility?"

It went the same way as "personal responsibility".

Plenty of good discussion on this topic.

About 18 months ago, the Traveler had a Reader Participation Day question on a closely-related topic to the current story. It asked, "Are you anxious about being out of cell phone contact during a park visit? Would you actually decide to skip a trip to a park just because the answer to 'can you hear me now?' is ...'no'?

That article also described "nomophobia, a term derived from 'no-mobile-phone phobia,' or the fear of being out of mobile phone contact." As more and more of us have become accustomed (for better or worse) to constant access to electronic communication, this is a very real concern for some people.

These folks are of the standard liberal ilk.

ec, please don't do this. I, for one, have no idea of the political parties of the people posting, nor do I think it makes a difference. There are valuable opinions on both sides and to denegrate the ones you don't agree with with a broad 'brush stroke' is lazy and adds nothing to the conversation.