Mount Rainier National Park may soon have a cellphone facility, if Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, AT&T and some users get their way. In an environmental review, the National Park Service outlines the options.
To some, spotty cell service near Mount Rainier National Park is a nuisance or even a danger in an emergency. To others, being disconnected is the point.
Aren’t we trying to flee our busy lives for peace and Tahoma’s natural beauty?
Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and AT&T have proposed constructing a cellular facility that would serve the Paradise visitor center and the surrounding area. The companies hope to co-locate equipment.
Share your thoughts with the park service
Send comments by mail:
Superintendent, Mount Rainier National Park
55210 238th Ave. E.
Ashford, WA 98304
Or comment online:
The National Park Service released an environmental review of the proposal Monday. Park lovers have until July 19 to review and comment on the options.
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Then, park Superintendent Randy King said the park’s management will submit a recommendation to a regional director, who will make the ultimate call. King expects the issue to be decided by this fall.
The idea has been contentious and well-argued. After the cell companies showed interest, the park floated the idea of cell service last fall in a public scoping and received 492 comments. Commenters were split, with 249 supportive of the idea and 241 against.
“Those that are in favor of the service referenced safety, access, ability to communicate and coordinate with others,” King said. “Those who didn’t like the idea of cell service felt the park should be a place where you’re out of reach of electronic devices. … They like the idea of refuge.”
But the scoping didn’t include specific details, which are now up for public consideration.
The environmental review outlines two options for the park: Reject service altogether or allow the companies to install equipment at the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise. Most equipment would be housed in the building’s attic, save for a few small antennas attached to the building’s gable ends.
“The installation, by and large, would be concealed, and it wouldn’t be able to be seen,” King said. Construction would take just a few weeks.
Cell service would still be limited high on the mountain, according to the environmental review.
“The signal would be strongest in the upper parking lot of Paradise, radiating northeast and southwest of the Jackson Visitor Center,” according to the review. “Moderate wireless signals may extend to ridges within line-of-sight of the antennas.”
Mount Rainier National Park sees between 40 to 50 search-and-rescue operations a year, according to the review.
“I think there are cases where that [cell service] would have been helpful when we have been looking for people,” King said. On the other hand, cell service “may encourage people to take risks they wouldn’t otherwise take, to call for help and get it.”
With service, visitors could get up-to-date information at the park, including avalanche-forecast information, road-closure notices and parking details, the environmental review noted. It would also let people stream music and send selfies to Instagram, instantly.
King said the park extended public comment to 45 days, so people “had ample opportunity to comment and participate.”
That seems unlikely to be a problem.
“People do care about it and they do have opinions. That’s very clear about this particular proposal,” King said.