WT providing Wi-Fi service in Palo Duro Canyon

By Chip Chandler

Public Wi-Fi internet service is now available in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, thanks to West Texas A&M University.

Through WT Connect, visitors to the park’s Pioneer Amphitheatre, home of the “Texas” outdoor drama, can use phones and other devices to make calls, send texts or instant messages, browse the web and more.

“Texas” opens its delayed 55th season May 29 and will run nightly except Mondays through Aug. 14.

“We’re so fortunate in the Panhandle to have a place like Palo Duro Canyon. The beauty of the canyon and the access to nature it provides is so important for the physical and mental wellbeing of our visitors. But maintaining a park on the floor of a canyon is not without its challenges, and not least among them is communication,” said Jeff Davis, assistant park superintendent. “This partnership with WT is going to have a huge impact on our visitors. Not only will they be able to share their experience in the park through social media, phone calls, and texts, but we also will have better access to life-saving resources in the event that someone is hurt or lost.”

WT partnered with Mid-Plains Rural Cooperative in Tulia to expand an already installed fiber network, building out connection hubs and providing free internet service to visitors to Pioneer Amphitheatre, with plans to include significant portions of the rest of the state park.

“Without this partnership with Mid-Plains, this would not have happened,” said James Webb, WT’s vice president for information technology and chief information officer. “We explored running fiber from our campus, and it would have cost $1 million or more. But by working with this rural technology company and living up to the ideals of WT 125, we were able to conserve resources and still provide a valuable service to thousands of the park’s visitors, from here and around the country.”

WT Connect will increase internet bandwidth speed by 500 percent, making it possible for WT faculty and students to eventually hold classes in the canyon. Visitors will find a landing page branded “WT Connect” when they attempt to use internet service on their phones or other devices; they can access Wi-Fi after entering their email address, similar to the internet service provided at Buffalo Stadium, WT’s on-campus sports arena.

As part of the overall project, WT’s IT department also has worked with the Cultural Foundation of the Texas Panhandle, “Texas” and Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum to provide new mobile apps for the show and museum, the installation of live panoramic and 360-degree web cameras at the amphitheater, a newly available virtual tour of PPHM, digital signage in Pioneer Amphitheatre and more.

A live feed of the show will be featured regularly in weather segments during the 10 p.m. newscast on NewsChannel 10.

Primary work on the project was done by Dan Garcia, director of information technology; Cody Fenn, a senior computer science major from Argyle; and Beau Robbins, a recent Computer Information Systems graduate from Fritch.

“The canyon is in our backyard, so to speak, so it just makes sense to partner with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to improve the visitor experience in Palo Duro Canyon,” Webb said.

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