Will Wifi in our National or Provincial Parks Ruin the Outdoor Experience? [Rant]

Friday, 23 July 2010

Camping with laptops. Flickr credit: skye_sd

There was an announcement today that Parks Ontario will be test piloting Wifi in some of the Ontario Parks this summer. Currently the plan is to test it in Pinary Provincial Park then potentially roll it out to some other parks next year based on the reaction from park visitors.

Of course this has some Canadian's all up in arms over the fact that their wilderness experience will be completely ruined with the presence of the internet.

I’m going to go out on a limb and declare that this could be a good thing. While I agree that it would be nice to actually "get away from it all" fact is that for many, internet access is put up there on the same level of importance as showers and flush toilets so given the choice to camp or stay in a hotel, some will choose a hotel killing any chance of an outdoor experience.

A Provincial Park is not wilderness. It’s car camping plain and simple. Most parks already have full nature programs, designated beaches, playgrounds for the kids, souvenir shops that sell bad wolf print sweat shirts and even worse tasting coffee. Anybody who thinks that they are in the wilderness is just fooling themselves.

Don’t get me wrong. I love car camping. We have a family trip planned with 10 other school families for next month. It’s going to be the best trip of the summer.

Here are some of the great anti-wifi-in-parks comments that came from the CBC news article today:
[blockquote]maggiemay81 wrote: The parks should encourage patrons in breaking free from technology and getting back to the great outdoors while visiting the park!

Sadly this is nothing more than a cash grab and revenue maker for the park and it's safe to say one service I won’t be using.

nickpana wrote: This is really pathetic. People who claim to want to go camping, yet have everything they have at home. Why not just camp in your backyard? You don't have to travel, waste gas, lose time etc.

C'mon folks get real. Disconnect once in a while. It will do wonders for you.

terrza wrote: Can you actually say you are in the 'wilderness' if you are completely wired and in live contact with the whole world

This is my favorite one:
Bugwayji wrote: No no, people are confused. This is to help with more surveillance in the police state Canada is becoming.[/blockquote]
I’m pretty sure that the same people quoted above would have been the same people who got upset back in the 1950’s when they decided to install flush toilets throughout the park system. "Flush toilets! If people want toilets they can stay at home. They will ruin my wilderness experience and I plan to never use them."

Finally let's look at the technology itself. Wifi is technically very difficult to roll out. A good transmitter only covers less than an acre of land so it’s highly unlikely that any park will roll it out park-wide and if they do, the focus would really be on the trailer park itself. There is absolutely no chance that it will be rolled out across vast swaths of backcountry land so the hikers and canoeists can breathe a sigh of relief (or get mad depending on which side of the fence you sit). Heck, San Francisco is having a difficult enough time rolling out city-wide wifi and that is with all the wiring and hydro poles in place already!

I guess at the end of the day, some people need to calm down. Your camping trip won’t be destroyed with wifi if you decide to leave your laptop at home but it might just make another visitors trip that much better encouraging them to do it again next year, and the next. You get my point.

Flckr Photo Credit: skye_sd

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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