News that cell phones may soon have service at Mount Rainier National Park is causing a stir these days.
Reassurances are wanted that the huge park will not become a haven for zombie-like visitors staring at their phones while bouncing from tree to tree like steel balls against the bumpers of pinball machines — which, we admit, is probably a dated reference.
Or that tourists will become Internet strollers lost in their little screens, thumbs beating a tattoo to keep in touch with the folks back home who, like the sender, are missing out on the fun at Paradise — which is not a dated reference.
We hope it doesn’t come to that.
So do officials at the U.S. Park Service.
They invited comments on the proposal to add cell phone service to the park a couple of years ago and got a strong response — about 900 messages.
Many were mostly worried about the ambiance of Mount Rainier being spoiled.
The other respondents focused more on the safety aspects.
Not to worry. Park officials have a plan that should satisfy most people on both sides.
For starters, there will be no ugly cell tower getting between you and the snow-capped peak of the glorious mountain.
They’re hiding it inside the visitor center at Paradise, “in the attic.” You won’t even see it.
In the second place, it will be low power. And third, the whole apparatus inside the building will be aimed at the main built-up areas at Paradise and not at the wilderness beyond.
That means the parking lot and walkways at Paradise probably will be the practical limit of where cell phones could be used.
Whether to allow cell phones on Mount Rainier is more a civil discussion than a debate. On one side there are many people who most value the mountain park as a sanctuary of beauty, health and silence, while on the other there are those — including some park officials, first responders and law enforcement officers — who argue that safety is an overriding issue. These are all important considerations.
So far, park officials have authorized Verizon and T-Mobile to provide coverage. Eventually AT&T may also provide cell service.
It seems fair to say that all who responded with comments believe Mount Rainier is one of the greatest parks in the world. It is 97 percent wilderness.
But the scattered 3 percent accommodate a million tourists a year, primarily in Paradise, Longmire and the woodsier campgrounds such as Ohanapecosh.
Not all those folks come to the mountain for a day’s hike. Some come to stay for the weekend, or for a strenuous climb to the top or a truly exceptional two- or three-week vacation.
The park service knows that visitors, for whatever duration, may get separated from each other. And sometimes non-emergency searches may be called simply to locate a kid in the gift shop. Local cell phones could eliminate a lot of those mini-crises.
As to keeping the serenity that is the mountain, we suggest that when people venture into that 97 percent of wilderness that defines the park they should simply take it in and enjoy the experience of being in nature.
They don’t make an app for that.