The National Park Service (NPS) is crafting a plan to build cell towers near Glacier National Park to improve service and safety. Currently, radio, phone, and computer/data-based communications in the park are limited, unreliable, or unavailable in several areas. On Monday, the agency announced it was taking public comments for a park telecommunications plan and environmental assessment, reported the Montana Standard.
The plan includes adding infrastructure around four lodges, increasing the height of existing radio towers from 40 to 80 feet, and moving communications equipment from within the park to a site outside the park on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
Installing telecommunications equipment in national parks has proven controversial in recent years, according to the Standard. Opponents argue the presence of towers and other infrastructure degrades the wilderness experiences, while proponents say these improvements are vital for park operations and visitor safety. A recent public newsletter released by the NPS addresses opponents’ concerns. Plan objectives include protecting park resources by establishing parameters for telecommunications infrastructure and minimizing the amount of such gear in the park.
The newsletter also outlines the limitations park personnel face due to the current lack of communications: “reduce administrative and visitor service capabilities; increase costs; limit communications for law enforcement, backcountry patrols, and resource management; can affect emergency response capabilities, and present an increased safety risk to personnel.”
The park plans to collect public comments through March 9. Both the plan and Environmental Assessment should be ready by May, reported the Standard. The NPS should release a decision by July.