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Lookout project would hurt views at Mt. Washburn

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BILLINGS (AP) – Communications towers proposed for a historic fire lookout and popular hiking destination in Yellowstone National Park would detract from its views, park officials have determined.

The finding has triggered consultations with Wyoming preservation officials to look for ways to minimize the impact.

Yellowstone is proposing to erect a three-sided mounting structure with 40-foot towers for cellular antennae and other equipment around the Mt. Washburn Fire Lookout.

It’s part of a broader effort to improve Yellowstone’s wireless infrastructure and cell service in developed areas—changes that have sparked debate over how much connectivity is appropriate in a park that for many visitors offers an escape from an increasingly linked-in world.

The determination that the Mt. Washburn proposal would have an “adverse” visual effect was included in a letter from Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk to preservation officials that was obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Park officials will consult with Wyoming’s historic preservation office on ways to minimize or offset the equipment’s visual impact, said Yellowstone spokeswoman Morgan Warthin.

The new towers and mounting structure would allow for the removal of telecommunications equipment that’s been installed on the lookout tower over the course of decades, park officials have said.

Wyoming Historic Preservation Officer Mary Hopkins said that would benefit the structure itself but there still would be visual impacts.

“I don’t think it’s going to look any worse,” Hopkins said. “Our concern is the historic structure and the effect on that only—not whether there’s cell service.”

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility executive director Jeff Ruch said the park was making a bad situation worse.

“It was ugly and it’s about to get ugly squared,” Ruch said. “Given the nature of what they’re proposing, we’re not sure how you can eliminate the adverse impact other than by putting a cloak of invisibility on the whole structure.”

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