Parks Canada embracing Wi-Fi in an appeal to not-so-committed campers

I just love the sounds of camping and nature. The call of the loon, the howl of a distant coyote. The crackle of the fire as your family gathers around to roast marshmallows; the symphony of crickets as you bunker down for the night.

The wind. The rain. The beeps and whistles. That little bell that jingles whenever a new email is sent to your inbox – the sound that sometimes permeates your dreams and wakes you in the middle of the night, gasping and declaring that it’s time to take a vacation.

That's right, soon the peaceful, calming cries of "You've got mail" will be heard in some of the deepest parts of Canada's wilderness, with the news that Parks Canada is looking to introduce wireless Internet access in as many as 50 parks across the country.

Is the "You've got mail" reference too dated for you? How the tapping of the keyboard? Or Siri’s melodic voice? Or the blaring audio from any of the obnoxious Vine or YouTube clips friends and co-workers have forced upon you over the past five years.

Because that's the fear associated with a recent move from Parks Canada. Expanded access to the frivolity, and the demands, of our online culture in the one place Canadians can still go to escape it.

The Canadian Press reports that Parks Canada has put out a call for bids from contractors capable of installing Internet access points in as many as 150 national park locations over the next three years – 50 this year alone.

Via the Canadian Press:

Some may see Canada's national parks as places where families can escape the hustle and bustle of modern life without being tethered to online video games, social media and email.

But Parks Canada says visitors want to be able to stay in touch with work, friends and family, stay up to date on the news and connect with social media.

[ Related: Call of the wild to compete with tapping of keyboards at Canada's parks ]

Is this necessary? Is it vitally important that we are able to Instagram that sunset? How fast do we need to post that video of a wandering raccoon to Facebook? Not to mention how damn near impossible it is to go even a weekend without checking your work email.

That’s the reality of today’s society. Our Internet-loving culture isn't the fault of Parks Canada, not by any stretch, but perhaps they are forced to adapt to it.

Francois Duclos, Parks Canada's manager for visitor experience, planning, said the decision was made to indroduce targeted hotspots after an inundation of requests from visitors. And, yes. Part of the strategy is to appeal to those who may be scared off by the silence of nature.

"This built up to be more than just anecdotal requests for Wi-Fi," Duclos told Yahoo Canada News.

"Some segmets of our visitors already wish we had this service. And ... we believe by adding this service at the right place for the right people, we can increase our visitor base with new segments of the population."

Nowadays, people seem less likely to shed their urban lifestyles and commit to a weekend of camping. Parks Canada is surely aware of it, and working up ways to appeal to the less-than-committed camper. A new program, for example, offers to provide novice and first-time campers with fully equipped campsites. There's no longer a need to buy a tent if you're only going to use it once.

Now there's no reason to learn to live without the internet for an entire weekend if you're only going to do it once, too.

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Duclos said Parks Canada saw a drop in visitors during the early 2000s, but a strategy to appeal to a wider range of visitors - which includes renting pre-equipped camp sites – has more recently evened out the number of annual visitors.

"This type of offer, with wireless internet, is indeed part of the the project to update our services and make them more appealing to the current market," Duclos said.

Parks Canada receives about about 20 million visits every year. According to Parks Canada statistics, the number of people visiting national parks has increased in almost every province between the 2008-2009 season and the 2012-2013 season.

Only New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Nunavut have seen slight decreases in attendance numbers at national parks, reserves and marine conservation areas over that timeframe.

The argument for Wi-Fi is sound enough. If you don’t want it, don’t use it. And Parks Canada says that only sections of each part would be Wi-Fi accessible. But part of the appeal of camping is that you don’t have the temptation. And knowing that the people at the camp site next to you, or down the trail, aren’t going to be live streaming Top Chef Canada or playing a Songza dance mix playlist all night long.

Camping requires all involved embrace the peace and quiet nature affords us. One rotten apple spoils the bunch. Introducing Wi-Fi makes it all the more likely distractions will occur. But ignoring the realities of our online society threatens Parks Canada in another way. People are just as happy to lose themselves online as they are to lose themselves in the wilderness.

Soon, for better or worse, we can do both. But try not to text while hiking. You’re likely to walk off a cliff.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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