Cell Phone Towers in U.S. Parks Dial Up Debate

Jennifer Cutraro
for National Geographic News
May 31, 2006

The jarring ring of a cell phone deep in the wilderness is many a nature lover's worst nightmare.

But it's a scenario that may become more common in the United States as wireless-communication companies expand their reach into national parks and other protected lands.

In March 2005 officials at Yellowstone National Park (see photos) met privately with several telecommunications companies to develop a future wireless plan for the park, including cell phone towers.

Yellowstone already has six towers in five locations, and wireless industry representatives are reportedly calling for more.

News of the meeting, released this month by the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), sparked concern about the closed-door nature of the talks.

"Yellowstone belongs to the American people, who ought to have some say before it is transformed into a giant cyber cafe," PEER executive director Jeff Ruch said in a press release.

"This is a commercial use of public land," Ruch later told National Geographic News in a telephone interview.

"The purpose [of the meeting] was to bring all the players—and the players apparently didn't include the public—together to decide how to divide up the pie."

But some experts note that, while the meetings themselves are controversial, they should come as no surprise.

Laura Loomis is senior director for government affairs with the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association in Washington, D.C.

She says at least 30 national parks—from Hawai'i Volcanoes to Montana's Glacier—have communications towers of some sort, and that number is expected to grow. (Related travel feature: national parks rated.)

"There is probably a park somewhere in the country that is getting a [new] telecommunications application every day," she said.

Continued on Next Page >>


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