BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — Summertime pushes some folks to dust off their tents or hook up their RVs and drive off to their favorite camping destinations, hoping to stare at mountains and rivers and trees.
Others would rather polish off the latest season of “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix, or read the Bozeman Daily Chronicle’s website.
But then there are those who pack their cars hoping to find both — without maxing out their phone’s data plan.
Whether it’s a trip to Yellowstone, a Montana state park or a public or private campground, some campers are asking: Is there Wi-Fi?
KOAS LEAD THE WAY
One of the largest and most ubiquitous private campground companies has made Wi-Fi standard at most of its locations.
KOA’s big yellow signs line state highways and interstates, and behind those are tent and RV sites, and to go along with them, Internet and cable TV.
Leslee Boodrey, manager at the Bozeman KOA, said it’s something customers use often.
“You have people who want it to send emails . you have other people who want it because they want to be able to book their next destination,” Boodrey said. “Then you have the younger crowd. They can’t live without their phones.”
Boodrey said offering Wi-Fi isn’t simple. Signal repeaters have to be set up throughout the campground to get it to reach each spot. Large RVs and trees can interfere with the signal. And, of course, unpredictable weather poses its own challenge.
“It’s different than when you go to a motel,” Boodrey said.
The push by KOA to start offering Internet began sometime in the last decade. Boodrey has been at the Bozeman site for about eight years, and the Wi-Fi there predates her.
Smaller private campgrounds have also embraced the technology, such as the Spring Creek Campground south of Big Timber on the banks of the Boulder River.
PUBLIC LANDS MOSTLY DISCONNECTED
Web junkies have considerably less luck on state and federal lands.
Custer Gallatin National Forest spokeswoman Mariah Leuschen-Lonergan said she didn’t know of any campgrounds in the Custer Gallatin that offer Wi-Fi.
“It’s a struggle to even have cell service,” Leuschen-Lonergan said.
She added that people who head to national forest lands are usually more concerned about toilets and potable water than Internet.
“You’ve got to think of some of your basic survival necessities,” she said.
State parks have a similar story.
Patrick Doyle, a parks spokesman, said he didn’t think any campgrounds at state parks offered Internet.
As for Yellowstone National Park, the offerings are only somewhat better.
Certain concession-run facilities have free Wi-Fi, such as the Snowlodge, Lake Lodge Cafeteria and Mammoth Lounge. But a number of buildings in Yellowstone are forbidden from having Wi-Fi installed.
A wireless communications plan for the park prohibits installing the service at buildings designated as National Historic Landmarks and lodging facilities likely to be recognized as such.
That includes the Mammoth Hotel and Old Faithful Lodge, among others. The thinking there is that keeping a historic building in the pre-Internet age will “protect the experience expected at historic lodging locations.”
GOOD OR BAD?
Despite where it’s available, views differ on where campers should be able to access the Internet.
Doyle said he would love to see it installed at some state parks.
“It’s a technology I think would be valuable,” Doyle said. “As people become more reliant on mobile devices, it is a nice amenity to have.”
But others worry it might diminish the experience of camping. Shouldn’t it be about getting away from the phone, the email, the constant connectedness of the 21st century?
Boodrey thinks that way — even though her campground offers Wi-Fi.
She said camping should be a way for people to connect to nature and the people around them.
“You’re in Bozeman, Montana, for crying out loud,” Boodrey said. “There is so much to see and do here. Why do you want to have your nose in the phone?”