Rustic or cutting-edge? Planners of newest Minn. state park confront connectivity dilemma

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SOUDAN, Minn. - Along with deciding where to let Lake Vermilion State Park visitors pitch tents, developers are grappling whether people will be able to surf the Internet around campfires.

The master plan for the in-the-works state park advocates embracing emerging technology. It says having broadly accessible wireless would help enhance in-park navigation, provide additional learning opportunities and encourage younger generations to visit. But the document also says there must be some limits.

"Importantly, this also includes minimizing the impact of technology on other park visitors who are seeking 'unplugged' experiences and taking care not to replace 'real' outdoor experiences with digital ones," the plan says.

Jim Essig, who manages the Lake Vermilion park, said officials are debating how to deliver Internet capabilities in the wilderness. They intend to run fiber cables to the yet-built lakeshore lodge and are figuring out whether it is cost-effective to have Wi-Fi hotspots at campsites and other areas of the park or across the whole park.

Minnesota is far from alone in confronting the issue. In South Carolina, for instance, most of the state's 47 parks have hotspots. Visitors are encouraged to use smartphone applications to track their trail routes or get more information about the park they're in, State Park Director Phil Gaines said.

"You want to go to places and disconnect while still being connected. We are still trying to find that happy medium," Gaines said. "The world has changed so much that people are not going to leave their smartphones behind."

Geographic location: Lake Vermilion State Park, Minnesota, South Carolina State Park

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