Another Cellphone Tower OKed for Kings Canyon National Park

One more communications tower is going up on Park Ridge in Kings Canyon National Park.

One of the last act's Jon Jarvis took as director of the National Park Service's Pacific West office before moving to Washington as the agency's director was to approve the erection of a cellphone tower near Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park.

Located on Park Ridge near Grant Grove, the Verizon Wireless tower joins a cluster of other communications towers. Current structures on Park Ridge include: "two concrete block structures containing NPS and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) communications equipment with power generators; a 20-foot fire lookout tower; two 40-foot lattice towers with NPS and USFS telecommunications equipment; and a 30-foot tower on the NPS communications building supporting a passive reflector used for land-line service operated by Verizon California," according to a notice regarding the company's request that was posted in the Federal Register last spring.

"The selected alternative is the installation of the telecommunications facility, including an 80-foot-tall monopole tower with antennas, a prefabricated single-story building beside the tower for equipment storage, and a stand-by generator," the Park Service announced. "The tower will provide wireless communication and internet coverage along a portion of the Generals Highway and State Highway 180 in the vicinity of Grant Grove, Grant Grove Village and Wilsonia in Kings Canyon National Park, and to some remote areas within the park and the surrounding Sequoia National Forest. Cell phone coverage in the area will likely lead to improved communications for National Park Service operations, and may result in improved visitor and resident safety."

The fine print: The National Park Service is required by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to consider all applications for the installation of cellular equipment on NPS lands. The NPS is currently preparing the permit for the telecommunications facility. Once the permit is finalized, Verizon hopes to install the cellular tower in spring 2010.


I would say that much depends upon balancing the need for "improved communications for National Park Service operations, and . . . improved visitor and resident safety" with the regrettable resulting damage to the beauty of our National Parks. I don't pretend to be able to make any further comment than that on this matter.

We've had this debate before, when the tower was first proposed. To some it represents safety, to others connection with family far away, to others just one more tower on a ridge brimming with towers. But what new technologies down the road will also sprout in national parks in the name of improving communications and visitor safety?

As a baby boomer, I at times am astonished that I've lived so long without having grown up with cellphones or the internet. How much of nature should be compromised in the name of communications and safety? Should wilderness parks such as Kings Canyon or Canyonlands or those in Alaska have cell towers erected deep within their souls to better communicate or provide visitor safety? And if so, what have we lost?


Maybe we have lost the following:

1.) A bit of self-reliance. If we know that a trained SAR team is just a cell phone call or a SPOT message away, it changes the character of a wilderness trip. We no longer have to rely on our own knowledge, skills, and abilities to stay safe and get back home. It might even cause carelessness or foolhardy actions.

2.) Authentic wilderness experiences. I have often thought that parks and other wild places stand in stark contrast to the world we inhabit. We live with a of urgent meetings, countless phone calls, and incessant noise. Wild places give us a chance to turn off our blackberries, unplug our computers, turn off our cell phones and live life according to the rhythms of nature or the pace of our history. One of the neat things about an extended river trip is that by the 3rd or 4th day, one begins to live on river time. It takes some getting used to and some people don't adapt very well. But for those who do, it's liberating. I took a 4-day hike once on Olympic's wilderness beach. Where we camped and when we walked was not determined by the rise and setting of the sun, but by the high and low tides. What a contrast to the old up by 6:30 am and in bed by 11:30 pm routine!

3.) Life without noise. It goes almost without saying that we experience little time without man-made noise. Wilderness parks give us time to to listen to nature or to quiet. Both have lots to teach us.

I hope I am not sounding too preachy here, but I do think that our push to make everything safe is changing the way we experience wild places. Some are comfortable with the change; others, not so comfortable. One of your posters, Ray Bane, was once asked how Gates of the Arctic should be managed. In what seems to me to be a remarkably good answer, Ray answered that it ought to be managed in such a way that every visitor could experience what Bob Marshall experienced when he went to the "last blank place on the topo maps." I'm not sure we can even create the illusion of that if everyone has a cell phone in his/her pack.

Rick Smith

How ironic. This discussion mirrors the hot middle school book "The Giver". In the book the society has traded in joy, pain, and color for safety. As a 50+ year old teacher I read the book and was totally creeped out. What is so scary to me, is we as Americans might actually give up freedom for safety.

Hello Kurt,

I have been visiting Kings Canyon Park for the last 50 years. Until I started hiking the trails, I never knew this place existed. Visitors can not see this Look-Out tower from any of the roads leading into the parks. I've visited this sight a couple of times in the last few years. It takes a 45 minute hike on the trail to get to get there. On the surface of the proposed sight, the buildings that support the communication system that is currently there have already scarred the surface of the area. If the new tower is one of the new camouflaged type, I would bet no one would even notice it from any of the park roads.
By the way, the Look-Out tower usually offers excellent views of the surrounding Sierra mountain tops to the East, and the yucky smog of California's San Joaquin Valley to the West. I think Jon Jarvis did his homework.


Bruce, the question isn't whether Mr. Jarvis did his homework, or how long it takes to hike to the trail to the ridge, or whether anyone can see the towers from roads.

Rather, the question I think is how long must the umbilical cord be for us to feel safe in nature? Where do we stop erecting towers so we can be connected, where we feel safe, where we don't have to rely so much on ourselves because a button push or two will summon help? I think Rick Smith pretty much nailed it above.

Most cell tower mono-pole installations without guy wires can be made to blend in somewhat (painted pine green for instance) and they do have eceological benefits as well. Eagles and other nesting birds can and do build nests at the top, and it can provide a safe resting and viewing area for them. I would resonally much prefer to see an not hear the occassional cell tower and a 12x20 ft building making no noise, than see and hear an RV or van full of noisy people parked by the road. I ask you, which offers more serenity? Give me the unmanned cell site anyday!

Let us also not forget that eighty years ago, there were similar complaints about building ANY roads into National Parks. Now we have roads, restrooms, restaurants, visitors centers and hotels in National Parks. Most of the complainers of cell sites seem to take the selfrightious attitude of THEY pose no problems and yet demand all the human amenities I listed above. Think of it this way, suppose all human made noises were outlawed in the NPS and everyone had to walk or hike into NP's. Great you say; buy suppose you hiked in, made no camp, spoke no words to anyone, and unfortunately you had a heart attack or found yourself in dire peril due to no fault of your own. Would you not want to be able to call for help and have someone get there quickly (think sirens and helicopters here) to get you out of trouble as quickly as possible? Other than the rare occassions when a cell site loses power and a generator takes over, they are silent neighbors in the NPS. Even the generator can be eliminated and the site go on battery backup for a couple of days. Yeah, I say let them be built to help mankind, not be banned just to appease an itsy-bitsy percentage of the population who want no one else in the NPS than them.

The National Park System belongs to every American citizen, if folks don't want any modern conveiniences, let them demand a popular vote by ALL Americans, Yes or No, not just the ones living near the park (since we all pay taxes to support the NPS).


In responce to your reply, I quess we don't know until someone you love, has a heart attack in a remote area, and you wish, "Damn, I sure could use some help!"

I have to say that as a ranger living in the parks I enjoy having cell towers. I like the fact that I don't have to worry about setting up a landline every few months and this way it makes it easier for my family to reach me. I remember one season when my sister was diagnosed with cancer and I didn't have cell reception. The park headquarters never passed the message on to me and it took a week before I found out. But as a visitor I hate the fact that cell phones are everywhere. I was taking my niece birdwatching one day and we were focused on this one warbler when a woman came by yakking on her phone as loud as she could. There went our bird.

Ranger Holly


I agree with you that people need time to unconnect from the busy world and take time to relax and enjoy the simpler things in life such as nature, my wife and I both like to do just that. My solution to that is simply turn off the blackberry, cell phone and pager. I do this quite often and it works great! If someone tries to reach me, I let them leave a message on my answering machine or cell service and I will call them back at MY conveinience. I owe them no excuse as to why they could not get in tough with me immediately. If they push the issue, simply tell them that YOUR time belongs to YOU and not them. I think this should be the standard answer for everyone to use. If enough people said that, then maybe the rest of the world would stop calling us on our day off.

Folks, go absoluty stealth for a few days, the world will not have destroyed itself nor could you have changed much of anything in a week by yourself. The world can and will go on without you, just as they will do after you have passed away.


Hey Chris,
I agree with you 100%. On my terms, I love to excape from my business world, and disconnect. I deal with the public daily and love gettting into the romote areas of the Sierra mountains and exploring what it has to offer in a friendly enviromental way. You know, picking up the trash of others who don't care, while you enjoy the fruit of the park's beauty. This time does belong to me. I turn off the cell phone, and I don't log on to my company's computers. But, If I need help because my wife broke her leg! You better believe I would like to make that cell phone call. Wouldn't you!
Kurt, I apprecieate you posting both sides of the story. The popularity of your polls will surely grow. There is always two sides of the story.


Bruce, I'd say there are at least two sides to every issue. And really, one of our goals here at the Traveler is to coax out as many differing views as possible, as most usually have merit.

I think all things considered the Park Service made the right call on this one. I'm not a big fan of cell phones in the parks, but this tower location has a few special considerations. I'm very familiar with this area and have been at this cell site many times, and I have climbed the old fire look-out tower there (which is a fairly large truss-steel structure with a small enclosed room at the top.) First, Grant Grove, where this tower is located, is an isolated island of park within an area that is mostly Forest Service administered with a scattering of private ownership land. The main body of King's Canyon N.P. sits several miles away. The location is about as good as it gets for a tower, and that is witnessed by the fact that there are already several of them at this location. As Bruce said above, it is that rare combination of a great site technically for the tower, that is also not very visible, and creates a minimal environmental impact. That is a rare combination, most of the times these towers are in very obvious locations. There is also a need beyond just serving the park area. Grant Grove Village is in the park, just below this tower, right next to it is the larger Wilsonia community of private homes on private land. A couple miles away is Hume Lake, a large forest service community of private vacation homes and one of the largest camp/conference centers in the State. The other direction are several private communities, Dunlap, Squaw Valley, etc., these are all permanent homes. The tower is to serve these areas, the park coverage is just bonus, the argument Verizon used to sell the tower location. Verizon isn't interested in building an expensive tower just for the few people in the King's Canyon back country! There are other options in this area for a tower, but they are much more conspicuous, even though some of them would be outside the park. In fact this whole area has numerous antennas, there is one just about every high ridge in the front-country.

But I agree with the disturbance issue, I would love it if the folks in Grant Grove would turn off their phones unless they are in their motel room or it is an emergency. Unfortunately I know this won't happen... and furthermore I confess that I'm guilty of forgetting to turn my own phone off when in the parks.

Mr. Stephen O'Day safety first the cell phone towers are a great idea I was reading were they are blending them into the environment and not ruining the view great concept

One has to bear in mind the legal and business contexts of these decisions. As mentioned in the article, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires land management agencies to consider all applications for the installation of cellular equipment on NPS lands. The burden of proof in these cases is on the agency to demonstrate harm to resources if it is to deny a permit to a telecommunications provider. In a case where the proposed installation is in an already-developed communication site, it is rightfully difficult for an agency to demonstrate resource impairment from an additional antenna or tower structure of a height consistent with the existing development. In terms of business, telecom providers require a certain customer-density to make these things pay. They are targeting developed areas - busy road corridors and areas with lodging or residences. The bars you might get on a backcountry trail is a happy or unhappy accident, depending on your perspective (I don't carry a phone in the backcountry, but I don't mind if you do). So I see little risk that cell towers will proliferate in remote areas. The profit just isn't there. All this said, it seems reasonable to expect land management units to develop NEPA-approved plans that provide clear guidance for assessing resource impacts from proposed facilities. This will give agencies a much stronger basis to deny a permit when the proposal would create unacceptable adverse impacts on park resources.

Bruce Hildreth is spouting a trick bs argument. If he'd actually looked at the coverage maps for the tower, which are in the EA, he would realize that there is no chance that any SOS distress call from the backcountry of Kings Canyon would be picked up by this tower.

This comment was edited to remove a gratuitous attack.-- Ed.

Hi, I am moving to this national park in the grants grove area for 5 months starting july 2010, i was just wondering if cell service does work in the grants grove area, and what cell phone service works the best? I am very close to my dad who has medical problems and not being able to talk to him on a regular basis would be very difficult for me.
so if you could let me know about the service and which service would be best i would really appreciate it.
anyone who knows or has an opinion let me know because im totally in the dark at this point!
email me at

thank you, very much!