Outdoors

Verizon, T-Mobile want to bring cell coverage to Mount Rainier National Park

A rendering from the National Park Service shows the proposed locations for cell phone antennas on Jackson Visitor Center at Mount Rainier National Park.
A rendering from the National Park Service shows the proposed locations for cell phone antennas on Jackson Visitor Center at Mount Rainier National Park. Courtesy

Improved cellphone coverage could soon be coming to the most visited part of Mount Rainier, the national park announced in a statement released late Monday.

Verizon and T-Mobile have applied to install wireless communication facilities at Paradise, a year-round destination on the mountain’s south side. Cellphone coverage is notoriously sketchy at and around this location where most climbing expeditions and many rescue operations are launched.

The service would not require building towers at Paradise. Instead, the equipment would be placed in the attics of the Jackson Visitor Center with antennas mounted on the interior of the east and west ends of the building. The antennas would be behind fiberglass panels designed to match the exterior of the building.

At Sunrise, the second-most visited area of the park, cellphone coverage is available thanks to towers outside the park.

The lack of cell coverage at Paradise and along the road above Longmire 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 cellphone reception. Park officials communicate by radio.

While comprehensive coverage of the park might prove too challenging, King said in the 2012 interview, “I think you could at least (provide coverage) within those high-activity, high-visitation corridors.”

An illustration showing predicted coverage from the proposed antennas outlines the potential for cellphone reception between Paradise and Longmire.

Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the National Park Service considers all such proposals. The application from T-Mobile and Verizon triggers the National Environmental Policy Act, so there will be a two-week period for public comment. Through Dec. 12, comments may be issued by mail (Superintendent, Mount Rainier National Park, 55210 238th Ave. E., Ashford, WA 98304) or at parkplanning.nps.gov/ParadiseCellular.

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