Cellular service will soon be available in Mount Rainier National Park after the National Park Service granted permits to two wireless carriers to install equipment at the park’s heavily used visitor center.
The park service said Tuesday it approved permits to Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile to protect visitor and employee safety and to improve communications in the Paradise area, on the south slope of Mount Rainier, located about 100 miles (161 kilometers) southeast of Seattle.
There are currently no cellular installations in the park. It’s not clear yet when service would be activated, officials said.
Park officials said no towers would be built so the area’s scenery will be preserved. The companies’ equipment would be located in the attic, below the roofline, of the Jackson Memorial Visitor Center. The equipment will be enclosed behind wall panels on the gable ends of the building.
AT&T has submitted an application and also may be added, park officials said.
The proposal set off a debate about whether people enjoying the park and surrounding wilderness areas should have access to calls, Facebook, Instagram and other technology while communing with nature.
Some said cell service would improve safety and provide a convenience for visitors. Others contend the proliferation of phones would distract from the natural beauty of the surroundings.
Cell service will be strongest in the Paradise area, which saw about one million visitors last year. But cell signals may extend into wilderness areas “to a limited extent,” park officials said.
Some had urged the park to reject the companies’ applications over concerns that signals would spill deep into park wilderness. They said park officials should do more to protect the wilderness character of a park that is designated 97 percent wilderness.
The park service supported coverage in the heavily used Paradise area, where a large number of medical, search and rescue and other calls are made. While there may be some spillover into wilderness, the signal is limited by the installation design and lack of cell tower, the park service said.
The service said it will ask carriers to reduce their signal to the west and southwest, where wilderness character is most expected. It also plans a public education program to address concerns about inconsiderate cellphone use.
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