Mount Rainier National Park is considering allowing hidden wireless communication facilities at Paradise and starting Monday visitors can voice their opinions.
AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon have applied to install equipment that would improve the notoriously sketchy cell phone coverage at Paradise.
The park’s environmental assessment describes two alternatives. First, rejecting the request. Second, allowing the installation of the equipment and antennas in the attic of the Jackson Visitor Center where they would be concealed behind panels on the gable ends of the building.
The proposal does not include using a tower. The public comment period closes July 19 and the regional park service director is expected to make a decision in mid-September.
The park announced the proposal in November, 2016, and a recent statement issued by the park said it has since received nearly 500 responses “balanced between those in favor and those opposed to cellular service at Paradise.”
At Sunrise, another popular destination in the park, cellphone coverage is available thanks to towers outside the park.
The lack of cell coverage at Paradise and along the road above Longmire is not a new concern. After ranger Margaret Anderson was shot and killed by a visitor in 2012, a board of review recommended the park update standard operating procedures related to communication during crisis.
In a 2012 interview, park superintendent Randy King told The News Tribune that several agencies responding to the shooting, including the FBI, had trouble communicating in the park because of the lack of cellphone reception. Park officials communicate by radio.
While comprehensive coverage of the park might prove too challenging, King said in the 2012 interview, “I think you could at least (provide coverage) within those high-activity, high-visitation corridors.”
Among those opposed to the idea is South Sound resident Steve Mishkin.
Mishkin says cellular signals are encroaching on wild places and spoiling the wilderness experience. Ninety-seven percent of the park is classified as wilderness. The Jackson Visitor Center is not in designated wilderness but the signal would carry deep in to these areas.
“Will cellular coverage in the wilderness create an ‘unavoidable direct conflict’ with the park’s mission, or the ‘current use of the property?’” Mishkin said via email referencing the Telecommunications Act of 1996. “My view is that a strong argument can be made that it will.”
He argues that portable cellular towers could be used in the park during emergency situations.
Mishkin said that cell companies’ mission to provide connectivity and entertainment is “surely at odds with providing (what the Wilderness Act describes as) ‘opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.’”
“If I asked the Park to install a large-screen TV at the Jackson Visitor Center so that all guests could watch Seahawks games live on Sundays during the fall and winter, the proposal would be rejected summarily because it is so utterly inconsistent with the purpose of Mt. Rainier National Park,” Mishkin said. “So why is it OK to install cellular antennas that will allow hundreds of individuals to watch the games live on their own portable devices?”
Comments can be submitted online at parkplanning.nps.gov/paradisecellular or mail comments to: Superintendent, Mount Rainier National Park, 55210 238th Ave. E., Ashford, WA, 98304. The environmental assessment is available on the park website. Park officials remind those submitting comments that their comment and contact information could be made public.
Here’s a sampling of what some are telling the park today via Twitter: