Cellphone users will applaud, while those who hope to avoid others' conversations might cringe, but Yellowstone National Park officials have received approval to let Verizon Wireless erect a cell tower to serve the Fishing Bridge and Lake Village areas of the park.
A Right-of-Way permit clearing the way for construction of the new cell tower was recently approved by John Wessels, the National Park Service's Intermountain Region director.
Cellphone service originating from inside the boundaries of Yellowstone is currently limited to the Mammoth, Old Faithful, Canyon, Tower-Roosevelt, and Grant developed areas. The Lake developed area is the one additional location in the park where park managers determined cellphone coverage could be added under the park’s 2008 Wireless Communications Services Plan Environmental Assessment and its associated Finding of No Significant Impact.
The new cellular site will be located next to a buried water tank on a 100-foot rise above the Lake Administrative Area and 700 feet below the top of the Elephant Back Ridge. This site already has access via an existing service road and is near existing electric and phone lines. Antennas will be configured to minimize spillover coverage into Yellowstone’s backcountry.
The National Park Service previously evaluated the potential visual impacts of a 100-foot tower at the site using weather balloons and a crane. These efforts demonstrated that the tower would not be visible from the nearby Lake Hotel, Fishing Bridge, Lake Lodge Historic Districts, and area hiking trails, but will allow for cell service within the developed area.
A park release noted that "(T)he tower will extend 30 feet above the neighboring 70-foot-high average tree canopy, but will not break the skyline views from any popular visitor use areas or roads. The height will benefit the environment by allowing co-location of additional communications equipment while avoiding the need to build new towers for additional communication needs in the future."
This proposed site location and design was released for a 60-day public review and comment period last fall. Those comments and the response to comments as well as additional background on the project may be found on the National Park Service Planning, Environment and Public Comment website http://parkplanning.nps.gov/LakeCellularSite.
Last year Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility harshly criticized the proposal, saying not only had the park failed to seek public comment on the matter, but that Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk pushed the plan without adhering to guidelines in the Park Service's Management Policies, in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act, and without waiting for comments on the project from the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office.