Public comment sought on proposal

By Amanda Eggert EBS Senior Editor

Yellowstone National Park is seeking comments from the public on a proposed project to construct an antenna-mounting structure at the Mount Washburn Fire Lookout that would improve poor telecommunications services in developed areas of the park. The plan also calls for the addition and replacement of telecommunications infrastructure at Old Faithful, Grant Village, Yellowstone Lake and Canyon Village.

Bret De Young, branch chief of telecommunications in the park, said the plan won’t increase coverage area, but it would increase capacity at developed areas of the park.

“The [current] capacity is so low in Yellowstone at those interior sites that people just get blocked calls … There’s a lot of people trying to use a very small amount of bandwidth,” De Young said.

De Young said the current infrastructure handled older generation flip phones pretty well, but with visitors using smart phones to look at maps, make reservations, download park-specific apps and check weather, the system quickly becomes overloaded.

According to a NPS press release, the project would improve safety for park workers and visitors; reduce the number of antennas attached to the exterior of the historic fire lookout; and increase the availability of cellular telecommunications that currently limits park operations and visitor experience.

Park officials say the proposal is consistent with the 2008 Wireless Communications Services Plan, a document developed to guide the future of wireless communications in Yellowstone. The proposed changes would be implemented in a way that would limit spillover into backcountry areas of the park, according to the release.

At Mount Washburn, the plan calls for the relocation of multiple antennas currently attached to the historic fire lookout to the new mounting structure; the construction of new underground vaults to conceal new point-to-point microwave antennas; the replacement of an offsite diesel generator with a propane generator; and the replacement of old buried electrical service with new electrical service.

De Young said the new infrastructure at Mount Washburn would also support the land radios Yellowstone rangers use for communication. The lookout was never built for the antennas that are currently installed on the structure, he added.

The trail to Mount Washburn would remain open, although the fire lookout and the restroom would be closed at points during the construction.

At Canyon Village, the plan calls for the installation of a new tower at the existing telecommunication site. The tower there—as well as towers that would be installed at Grant Village and Yellowstone Lake if the plan is approved—would support point-to-point microwave antennas.

Public comments will be collected until March 2 at parkplanning.nps.gov/mtwashburn. Drawings and three-dimensional images of the proposed project are posted on this site and provide more details.

A Categorical Exclusion would be prepared for any changes requiring additional National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) compliance. Yellowstone is also consulting with the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office on the proposed design.