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Can you hear me now, Mount Rainier? Cell phone service coming to national park

The National Park Service announced on Tuesday that it will allow wireless carriers Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile to install equipment in the Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park.
The National Park Service announced on Tuesday that it will allow wireless carriers Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile to install equipment in the Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park. Staff file, 2008

Is Paradise lost or has a potential disaster been averted?

Cell phone equipment will soon be installed at Mount Rainier National Park, discreetly hidden in the Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise.

Goodbye, critical gaps in communication. Hello, texting teens.

After completing an environmental review, the National Park Service announced Tuesday that it will permit the installation of limited-range cellular equipment in the park.

Permits issued to wireless carriers Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile will allow the companies to install their equipment in the visitor center's attic.

AT&T may be added pending a final review and approval of a separate proposal.

The park service said in a statement Tuesday that cell towers are not part of the project, "preserving the extraordinary scenery at Paradise."

The equipment will function year-round and provide voice and data capabilities.

Paradise is the most popular and heavily used area of the park. It had approximately 1 million visitors in 2017. It's the most popular launching point for the climbing route to the summit.

The lack of cell coverage at Paradise is not a new concern. After ranger Margaret Anderson was shot and killed by a visitor in 2012, a board of review recommended the park update standard operating procedures related to communication during crisis.

In a 2012 interview, park superintendent Randy King told The News Tribune that several agencies responding to the shooting, including the FBI, had trouble communicating in the park because of the lack of cell phone reception. Park officials communicate by radio.

At Sunrise, another popular destination in the park, cell phone coverage is available thanks to towers outside the park.

Many were opposed to the idea of cell phone coverage in the park when it was first proposed in 2016.

A 2017 statement issued by the park said it had received nearly 500 responses, "balanced between those in favor and those opposed to cellular service at Paradise."

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor
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