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14 of Idaho’s 30 State Parks Offer Wi-Fi

May 9, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Thanks to Wi-Fi at Bruneau Dunes and 13 other Idaho state parks, campers can connect with nature and their families and offices. The first 20 minutes of Internet access are free, then there’s a daily fee.

For Linda and Bob Gladman of Boise, Wi-Fi at the park this spring was a convenience that allowed them to not only enjoy the dunes, bird watching and paddling on the park’s lakes, but also keep in touch with family members, the Bellingham Herald reported.

“I’m checking in with my daughter every morning,” said Linda Gladman as she powered up her laptop on the table of their camp trailer to check email.

While she sent messages on the computer, right out the window of the camper were the beige-gray sand dunes highlighted against a blue sky.

More Idaho parks could get Wi-Fi this year, said Neil Neiwert, president of BlueMesh Networks of Meridian, the firm providing Wi-Fi to state parks. Idaho has 30 parks.

You’d think campers would want to get away from it all when camping. Not so.

Internet access is attracting people to state parks and keeping them there longer.

“People who use the Wi-Fi network are able to extend a two-day weekend stay at an Idaho park location into a three- or four-day stay by checking into the office on Friday and Monday via email,” Neiwert said. “I have heard many positive comments.”

Would you rather work surrounded by magnificent pine trees and views of Payette Lake at Ponderosa State Park or at your Downtown office?

“Making Wi-Fi available within our parks is in response to customer feedback,” said Jennifer Blazek, communications manager at Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation.

Posting on Facebook is one of the most popular uses of Wi-Fi among campers, but they also are using it for email, geocaching, banking (for people who live on the road) and keeping in touch with family and friends.

You can immediately post on Facebook that you made it to the top of the big dunes at Bruneau Dunes or caught some bluegill in the park’s lakes.

Google Earth is a popular application for campers to conveniently map out routes to local areas for sightseeing.

The availability of Wi-Fi makes a big impression on travelers and campers.

There have been some cases in which volunteers decided not to stay and work at an Idaho state park because there was no Internet access, Blazek said.

State parks’ Wi-Fi project is a joint venture of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation and BlueMesh Networks, an Idaho company that manufacturers Wi-Fi networking equipment used in outdoor hospitality applications throughout the United States and Canada.

BlueMesh Networks provided all the equipment necessary for Internet connections in Idaho’s state parks with no up-front cost to the state.

Idaho isn’t the only state going wireless in parks. About 28 states have at least one park with wireless Internet service.

“The trend nationally within the state park industry is that unobtrusive wireless Internet is an ever-increasing popular feature among many would-be park users,” said Blazek. “It also keeps Idaho state parks competitive with our neighboring states.”

How strong is the signal at state parks?

This varies by location, and there are two components: Internet connection and number of access points.

“Coverage is generally very good,” Neiwert said.

BlueMesh Networks’ access points are made for the outdoors, and they are installed on bathrooms and lightposts throughout the parks, he said.

The company continues to install more hardware in parks that already have Wi-Fi to improve coverage, he said.

For example, Ponderosa State Park has 14 access points, Priest Lake has eight, Three Island has five and Bruneau Dunes four.

A few day-use state parks have just a single indoor access point, such as Old Mission State Park.

“Wherever there is camping, we try to cover those areas,” Neiwert said.

“Access-point mounting locations have to be balanced with available power, aesthetics and tree cover, but we have generally achieved a very good level of coverage at most locations,” he said.

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