A yearlong pilot program gauging demand for Wireless Internet, or WiFi, in five Texas state parks may serve as a testing ground for state parks nationwide.
According to report by Knight Ridder Newspapers, Texas is one of the first states to provide WiFi access in campgrounds. And, based on results, it may expand the service statewide, said Texas Parks and Wildlife spokesman Tom Harvey.
“We’re kind of testing the waters to see what the level of interest is,” Harvey said. “We are responding to what we’re hearing from our customers. I was told specifically that our staff at Goose Island State Park was hearing from customers that they wanted to be able to keep in touch.”
Though WiFi is commonplace in hotels, RV campgrounds and coffee shops, it is just starting to reach parks.
“We are seeing this technology pretty much become universal. People want access to information, and they want it right now. And they want it whether they’re at home, in a hotel or at a state park,” said Philip McKnelly, executive director of the National Association of State Park Directors.
Besides Goose Island, near Corpus Christi, the other parks in the pilot program are Balmorhea State Park, in West Texas; Choke Canyon State Park, south of San Antonio; Blanco State Park near Fredericksburg in Central Texas; and Lake Ray Roberts’ Isle du Bois unit, north of Denton in North Texas.
The service will be provided by TengoInternet of Austin, Texas. Eric Stumberg, president and co-founder of the 3-year-old company, said that the service will initially be free in the pilot program but that users will eventually be charged $3 to $5 a day or $15 a week.
He said his company has also talked with park systems in Kansas and Arizona about adding wireless service.
Meanwhile, the National Park Service has no plans for now to implement wireless technology, said Susan Garland, a spokeswoman for the service’s intermountain region in Denver, which includes Texas.
Park officials in several states have expressed concerns about whether Wi-Fi would diminish the atmosphere at state parks, but most say the effect would be minimal.
“If people are using their laptop or hand-held to quietly get a message or maybe sending a photograph, that won’t be any more obtrusive than reading a book,” said Roy Stearns, a spokesman for California state parks, where officials are “very close” to allowing the technology.
Still, officials say you won’t see laptops on hiking trails or atop a mountain. The technology will work only in campgrounds.
“We recognize that most people want to get away from technology when they visit a state park and leave their cell phones at home,” said Harvey, of Texas Parks and Wildlife. “My personal opinion is we’re never going to see a bunch of people sitting around picnic tables with their laptops.”