National Park Service says 138-foot tower will look like a pine tree and improve communications of safety and educational information
SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK – A popular lodging in Sequoia National Park will soon have a cellular tower within its view, but don’t worry, it will blend right in.
The National Park Service (NPS) has approved a plan allowing Verizon Wireless to construct, operate, and maintain a wireless telecommunications tower near the Wuksachi Village. The 138-foot tall tower with panel antennas and microwave dishes will be constructed to simulate a pine tree. The tower will be mounted on a 5-foot wide footer next to a 13-foot wide steel platform. A 500-gallon propane tank will be mounted on a concrete pad. Verizon estimates more than 1,400 feet of electrical cable will be buried to connect the tower to an existing electrical transformer.
The project will remove two, 14-inch diameter trees from the site. Antennas on the tower will be directed away from the wilderness, as much as possible. The proposed tower would be located in an established utility site west of Wuksachi Village at the end of an existing paved road, which provides access to existing above-ground water storage tanks. No improvements to the access road would be necessary for either construction activities or subsequent maintenance of the new telecommunications facility. A total of approximately 0.23 acres of land within the park would be affected by the project, including the trenched area adjacent to the access road (0.19 acres), and the communications facility (0.04 acres).
NPS Pacific West Regional Director Stan Austin signed off on environmental documents on Feb. 13.
“Sequoia National Park’s position is that improved cellular service will provide opportunities to more easily and quickly communicate park conditions to visitors, including real-time information on parking, traffic, weather, and hazardous conditions,” stated NPS spokesperson Nancy Hendricks. “Many visitors and park staff will view the service as a welcome benefit for purposes of accessibility, coordination, communication, and safety. While other visitors may view cell phone service as an unwelcome intrusion, the NPS is committed to a public education program to promote considerate use of cell phones in shared public facilities and spaces.”
Cellular coverage in Sequoia National Park is very limited. The wireless telecommunications facility would provide year-round cellular coverage in the vicinity of the Wuksachi Village and surrounding areas, including Wuksachi Way, as well as portions of the Generals Highway, Lodgepole Area and Wolverton Area.
The environmental assessment of the project was available for a 32-day public review and comment period from October 24, 2018, through November 26, 2018. A total of 42 comments were received during public review of the EA. Those opposed to the proposal were primarily concerned about visitors’ experience of solitude, self-reliance, natural soundscapes, and the ability to disconnect from technology, particularly in wilderness. Comments in support cited benefits to visitor health, safety, and convenience resulting from enhanced communication.
“Cellular service will also assist the park in providing educational and interpretive materials to park visitors, information about events and activities, maps, and other services, which could enhance the visitor experience and help protect park resources,” Hendricks stated.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are currently working with the permitee to design the tower and prepare a right-of-way permit. Construction will likely begin in 2020.