Washington, DC — Citing public safety, National Park Service officials are inviting telecommunication companies to erect cell towers on national park lands, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Some of the nation’s oldest and wildest parks, such as Yellowstone, are already approaching universal cell coverage.
“Even as it asks visitors to commune with nature, the Park Service is ensuring that no visitor will be beyond the reach of electronic tethers and the ubiquitous chirp of the cell phone,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that only one of the 388 national park units, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, has a plan governing placement of cell phone towers; in all the other parks, the telecom company picks the tower location. “With no national debate and almost zero public input, our national parks are simply giving away whatever solitude and serenity remains.”
With each passing month, competing telecom companies seek to fill in “dead zones” within our parks –
- The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, straddling the Pennsylvania and New Jersey shores of the Delaware River, has eight applications for cell phone towers within its boundaries from competing telecom companies;
- Yellowstone National Park, which already has five cell towers that provide coverage over most of the park, is considering overtures for as many as three other towers. While Yellowstone officials announced two years ago that it would develop an “antenna management plan,” to date its planning process has been closed to the public; and
- Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park, with the world’s most extensive cave system, recently approved an application by Bluegrass Cellular to construct a 180-foot cell tower that will extend cell coverage to many parts of the backcountry, including some Wilderness Study Areas.
Invoking public safety concerns, officials in many parks are welcoming cell
towers as a way for visitors and their own staff to communicate. The proof behind
these public safety arguments, however, is elusive. Ironically, none of these
parks raised any public safety worries until recently, after telecommunication
companies approached them. Not surprisingly, this telecom-public safety rationale
dictates that every part of a national park, especially remote, wild areas,
requires cell phone coverage.
“‘Can You Hear Me Now?’ is rapidly becoming the new slogan for our national park system,” Ruch added. “The telecom companies are not erecting towers to protect public safety but to make a buck. If the National Park Service is truly concerned that its visitors are unsafe without cell phones, perhaps they should start providing phones at the entrance gates.”