Greenwire’s article today, “Will more cell towers fuel a ‘nature deficit’?” reminds me of my recent visit to the Mount St. Helens National Monument in Washington (managed by the Gifford Pinchot NF). At the Windy Ridge viewpoint, I walked to the end of the viewing deck with fewer people — just two. Turned out that both of them were talking on their cell phones; one of them was sheltering from the wind and drizzle under the roof over an interpretive kiosk, and the roof acted like a megaphone. I soon departed for other, quieter viewpoints and the USFS campground outside the monument, which had no cell service.
The article reports that National Parks are adding cell infrastructure.
And at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, in perhaps the biggest digital expansion of all, park officials ignited a controversy with their plan to install new towers at nine sites, along with 62 miles of high-speed fiber-optic cable, near the park’s main roads.
With no nationwide policy to guide them, officials at the National Park Service’s 419 sites are finding all sorts of ways to increase their digital connections, hoping to lure more younger visitors. Supporters say it boosts safety and interest in visiting parks.
But critics say it’s a big mistake and actually ensures that children will feel more disconnected from nature in the long run.
“People should have a right to a no-Wi-Fi zone — there should be places where we’re not in contact and reachable,” said Richard Louv, a California author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.”
Louv acknowledged that he appears to be on the losing end of the argument with park officials, but he said people should be taught “that connecting to other life is more important than collecting your email.”
I was somewhat encouraged by the family camping a few sites from mine. They apparently weren’t using any electronic devices — they spent most of their time fishing and hanging out by the fire, and the 3 kids spent a lot of time running around with their dog and playing in the woods. If there had been cell service, those folks might have been disconnected from nature much of the time.