A California national park is getting its first cell tower. Not everyone thinks it’s a good idea

Fake tree: Sequoia National Park OKs new cell phone tower

Verizon gets approval from National Park Service for a new cell tower, disguised as a fake tree, to improve cellular service in Sequoia National Park in California
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Verizon gets approval from National Park Service for a new cell tower, disguised as a fake tree, to improve cellular service in Sequoia National Park in California

Verizon Wireless has won approval from the National Park Service to build a 138-foot-tall cellular tower in Sequoia National Park to improve cell phone service in that area of the park.

The tower will be a “monopine” design intended to disguise it as a pine tree and it will be built near Wuksachi Village, a developed commercial area in the park. The approval follows almost two years of evaluation since Verizon applied for a permit. It also came after a monthlong comment period in late 2018 in which a majority of public comments opposed allowing Verizon to install the tower.

Verizon’s tower would be the first such installation inside Sequoia National Park, according to data from the Federal Communications Commission. Sequoia’s sister park, neighboring Kings Canyon National Park, has a cellular tower also licensed to Verizon near Wilsonia and Grant Grove. Farther north in Yosemite National Park, there are nine towers that provide cellular service for park employees and visitors, including in Yosemite Valley.

The right-of-way permit for Verizon to build the tower is effective for 10 years.

Antenna plan SEKI.JPG
Plans for a 138-foot cellular tower near Wuksachi Village in Sequoia National Park detail how it would be disguised as a tree to blend in with the surrounding forest. Verizon Wireless National Park Service

“Many visitors and park staff will view the service as a welcome benefit for purposes of accessibility, coordination, communication and safety,” the Park Service said in a statement Wednesday announcing the approval at Sequoia National Park.

The agency noted, however, that objections from the public included concerns about how adding more cellular service inside the park could detract from why many people visit in the first place: “solitude, self-reliance, natural soundscapes, and the ability to disconnect from technology, particularly in wilderness.”

Some comments expressed concern about exposure to electromagnetic frequencies from the tower, a possible increase in visitors illegally using cell phones while driving, and disruption of peace and quiet by people talking loudly on their phones.

Opinions seemed split on the design of the tower and a choice between the “monopine” or a bare pole or lattice tower. “The monopine model is the only acceptable alternatives among those presented here,” one commenter wrote. Another added that “the tower’s presence would not be very noticeable, as it would blend in amongst the trees.”

Others disagreed. “These towers do not resemble a pine tree and would easily take away from the beautiful nature that is displayed all around Sequoia National Park,” one commenter wrote.

In documents recommending approval of the project, Sequoia/Kings Canyon park superintendent Woody Smeck wrote that “the selected alternative will not have significant effect on the quality of the human environment or the park’s cultural or natural resources.”

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A photo simulation included in a National Park Service environmental review depicts how a proposed Verizon “monopine” cellular tower near Wuksachi Village in Sequoia National Park may appear from nearby Wuksachi Way. Verizon National Park Service

“The NPS has determined that the long-term health, safety, and communication benefits associated with enhanced communications” — including better ability to report emergencies and non-emergency situations by phone — “outweighs the disruption some visitors may experience in response to other visitors’ use of cell phones in public spaces,” according to the Park Service’s environmental assessment.

“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,” the agency added.