Washington, DC — Yellowstone National Park is mobilizing to block a cell tower planned for a private campground at its north entrance, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The park superintendent is concerned that the proposed 115-foot structure would mar views at historic sites and popular natural settings inside Yellowstone.
Alltel Corp., a major telecom company, has announced plans to erect a 100-foot cell phone tower topped by a 15-foot lightning rod in Gardiner, Montana, adjacent to the park’s north entrance. Since the structure would be on private land, it does not require approval from the park or the National Park Service.
Nonetheless, in a letter to Alltel dated October 16, 2007, Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis expressed concerns about negative visual impacts on the “Roosevelt Arch and the North Entrance Road …historic district.” She added that the tower “would be visible from many locations surrounding the arch, and for about one and a half to two miles along the North Entrance Road within the park” and “is within about 100 yards of the trailhead for the Yellowstone River Trail, within Yellowstone National Park, which receives a high degree of visitor and local use…”
In addition to requesting a meeting with Alltel, Superintendent Lewis took the unusual step of inviting Yellowstone park employees to submit comments to the company, the state historic preservation office and to the park itself. The October 17, 2007 memo cautions, however, “[I]f you are submitting comments, other than those submitted to the Park Management, you are submitting them as a resident or area citizen.”
“No tower near the boundary of Yellowstone should be allowed to spoil the special vistas of the park,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The concern by park management about proliferation of cell towers and their negative effects on park values is laudable if somewhat ironic given Yellowstone's own history of approving inappropriate cell towers within park boundaries.”
PEER points to a number of park actions which appear to promote what it is now protesting, including –
- Park approval of a controversial cell tower that is visible throughout the Old Faithful Historic District;
- Secret park meetings with telecomm companies to divide up the remaining portions of the park that still lack cell coverage; and
- Development of a draft wireless plan (now almost a year behind schedule) premised upon meeting what Superintendent Lewis called “visitor expectations” of cellular service.
“We hope that the Park's commendable position on the Gardiner cell tower represents a new direction and the beginning of a stricter policy on cell towers, including removal of at least some of the questionable towers that have been approved inside the park,” Ruch added. “Yellowstone National Park needs to be managed as one of the world’s most precious natural settings and not like a high-tech playground.”
At the same time, other national parks throughout the country are struggling with new cell tower proposals for sites inside as well as adjacent to, but visible from, park confines. In late September, for example, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park protested plans for a 195-foot cell tower that would loom above the Civil war battlefield that is the park’s raison d'être.
PEER has been campaigning for the National Park Service to develop a system-wide approach to the proliferation of cell towers and the intrusion of the wireless world into places that otherwise offer solitude.
“The National Park Service provides no guidance or assistance to its superintendents who are left to cope, tower-by-tower, with a widening web of wireless scaffolds,” Ruch concluded, noting that currently only one of the nearly 400 national park units has a plan for cell tower siting. “Even today, our national parks consider the cacophony of ring tones to be part of the natural soundscape.”