The National Park Service is developing plans to bring WiFi and better cell-phone access to parks, including the iconic Yellowstone National Park. It’s triggering a heated debate, evidence by the recent article on Mashable that has been widely shared. Do elk and moose need access to the internet? Or more importantly, do the visitors who have come to be with nature also need to be connected to the internet so they can post a selfie instantaneously?
As we come up to the Centennial of the National Park Service it had me wondering what Stephen Mather, the first head of the National Park Service, would think of this debate. Of course, we’ll never know, but I have a hunch he’d have been an advocate.
Mather was a fascinating individual who had made his millions out of 20 Mule Team Borax. He understood the power of brand and the importance of getting people into the parks. He professionalized the park service, developed the iconic image of the Park Ranger (think of that hat), promoted Park Highways, and introduced concessions into Parks to provide for the needs of the visitors attracted to the parks he was building. He understood that parks needed protecting and the best way to protect them was to have passionate advocates who loved them.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he’d understand the importance of introducing WiFi and internet access in a careful and limited manner to both encourage new visitors and provide new services to the visitor once they arrived. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we need access everywhere all the time, but I do believe parks need to keep pace with current trends to ensure they remain relevant to all visitors.
What do you think?