Federal Eye: Old Faithful Incident Broadcasts Controversy

The National Park Service has cited six men with illegal possession of park material, off-trail travel and public urination after an incident May 4 at Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park. The men, all employees of a park concessionaire, left the boardwalk near the geyser and two of the men urinated into or near the famed spout. Three have appeared before the park’s federal magistrate judge with the other three set to appear soon.

Why might such an incident catch the Eye of a Washington Post reporter thousands of miles away? Because the incident was reported to park officials by someone watching Old Faithful on a live Web cam. The park has five Web cams — four static and one live — providing uninterrupted vistas of the park for anyone seeking a look at one of the nation’s most popular national parks.

This impressive act of voyeuristic vigilance has raised concerns with a government employee group that warns the cameras could signal the future of national park security.

“We’re on the threshold of cyber parks. This kind of use could dramatically expand and it has implications that I don’t think the Park Service has yet to grapple with,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an outspoken national alliance of local, state and federal resource and environmental professionals.

Ruch suggested that web cams might depress visitation at national parks, because “If you can watch it 24/7 from your living room, do you need to go there?” The cameras might also eventually lead the Park Service to cut back on the work hours of park rangers.

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