Yellowstone’s Quandary: How Do You Fix Ugly?
Plans for Scenic Mt. Washburn Must Prevent Further Damage to Historic Value
Washington, DC — Yellowstone National Park’s plan for a fifty-fold increase in cellular bandwidth has hit a snag – it mutilates the appearance of one of the park’s most iconic spots, according to National Park Service (NPS) correspondence posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The snafu illustrates the growing conflicts spurred by the spread of cell towers in national parks.
At issue is Mt. Washburn, one of Yellowstone’s most popular hiking destinations, offering stunning panoramas to those who reach the summit. Because it is one of the park’s highest points, telecom carriers covet it to project their signals as far as possible. Consequently, Mt. Washburn’s historic fire lookout has become Yellowstone’s electronic hub, festooned with at least 35 antennas and microwave dishes.
Yellowstone is now proposing a major multi-site cell expansion that would sheathe the fire lookout, which is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, with new microwave dishes covered by vaults and surrounded on three sides by new industrial lattices and antennae. The principal purpose is to facilitate the propagation of stronger next generation 4G cellular signals.
“National parks are supposed to protect scenery but Yellowstone has allowed commercial operators to transform Mt. Washburn into a monstrosity,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Yellowstone is in the grips of a galloping cellular compulsion and apparently does not know how to stop.”
Protests by PEER and others that Yellowstone’s Mt. Washburn plans violate the National Historic Preservation Act have made headway. In letters dated September 11, 2017 to both the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Officer, Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk concedes that park plans would harm the historic value of the Mt. Washburn fire lookout and commits to engage in “formal consultation …to resolve the adverse effect.”
The law requires that the park and the historic preservation officials reach a “Memorandum of Agreement” before proceeding. Given the scale of Yellowstone’s cell expansion, it is not clear how the overwhelming adverse visual impacts at Mt. Washburn can be avoided, however.
One key issue is that National Historic Preservation Act regulations provide for consultation with interested parties “commencing at the early stages of project planning,” but Yellowstone has been layering electronic paraphernalia onto Mt. Washburn for more than 20 years.
“What Yellowstone has permitted Mt. Washburn to become epitomizes a national park that has lost sight of its mission,” added Ruch. “At this point, we would not be surprised if Yellowstone renamed the peak Mt. Verizon.”