Friday, June 9, 2017

Mount Rainier: Cell Service at Paradise?

Above: Visitors at Paradise Inn at Mount Rainier National Park relax in front of the fireplace on Thursday evening. The National Park Service has drafted an environmental assessment for the possibility of installing cellular service equipment at Paradise. The public is invited to comment on the proposal.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK – Visitors from around the world come to Mount Rainier National Park to see and climb The Mountain, hike the trails and other nearby peaks, or camp in the wilderness. 

Most are there to appreciate the area's natural sounds and beauty, and escape day to day routines, news alerts, and other hassles of modern life.

There is no cell service at Paradise. 

During the day, the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center offers a deli, a book and gift shop, educational displays, a movie explaining the features and history of the park, weather information, and more. Brochures are provided in multiple languages.

In the evening, folks gather around the two massive fireplaces inside the historic Paradise Inn, listening to the fire crackle and pop. Some read a good book, or quietly listen to pianist Bill Powell play classic selections, as he has for the last seven seasons.

Others play board games or strike up pleasant conversations with staff and strangers. Chatting in hushed tones, all seem to enjoy the cozy ambiance and quiet camaraderie.

When you get back on the road, you can honestly say you didn’t hear about President Trump’s latest tweet. You can tell your boss you were out of range. You didn't hear about your friend’s relationship breakup, and in a worst case scenario, you may also not have heard that there was an emergency back home or a death in the family.

Being so out of touch could soon change and the National Park Service (NPS) wants your opinion about it.

The NPS is considering the issuance of permits to Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and AT&T that would allow those companies to provide cellular service in the Paradise area.

The NPS is required by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to consider all applications for the installation of wireless communication facilities on NPS lands.

In its environmental assessment, the NPS is considering two alternatives: a no action alternative and an action alternative. Under the no action alternative, cellular service would not be provided at Paradise.

Under the proposed action alternative, cellular equipment would be installed in the east and west attics of the Visitor Center with antennas mounted and concealed on the gabled ends of the building.

The park service will evaluate the two choices and their potential issues and impacts to the park’s resources, values, and visitors. Comments that provide corrections or suggestions to improve the alternatives or the environmental analysis would be most helpful, said a press release issued on June 5.

Comments may be made online at: or mailed to: Superintendent, Mount Rainier National Park, 55210 238th Avenue East, Ashford, Washington 98034.

The comment deadline is July 19. 

Above: In an aerial view of Mount Rainier, the predicted coverage by Verizon Wireless is explained in its analysis dated April 8, 2016. The red colored areas indicate the best indoor and outdoor cellular coverage at and around Paradise. The green colored areas indicate poor indoor and average outdoor coverage, and the blue colored areas indicate poor indoor and outdoor coverage.

Above: If needed, three pay phones are located at Paradise Inn near the registration desk. A dollar in change gets you ten minutes for a national call. Pre-paid phone cards are available in the gift shop. Armed with a fistful of quarters, this man from Tampa, Florida was making a call to his family. Asked his opinion about the proposed cellular coverage at Paradise, he said he did not want it. He said he and his family were looking forward to playing a game of Scrabble.

Many visitors who arrive at Paradise are surprised that there is no cellular service.  After a few attempts and expressions of disbelief, they realize it’s true, unless they hike up the mountain a little ways and hope to catch a rogue wave, or head down.

While cell phone coverage could improve visitor safety and communications amongst park service staff, Little Hollywood randomly chatted with several visitors about the proposal, and could find no one who wanted the coverage.

A man in his 20s with an open laptop said he already knew there wasn’t service, and downloaded “half the internet” before he arrived.

Another man with a laptop said that he had plenty of cached files to keep him busy, and didn’t want cellular coverage. When pressed about its possible availability for safety concerns, he said that the closest he’s come to an emergency is when he arrived at the Inn on the night of the presidential election and informed staff and fellow visitors that Hillary Clinton had lost.

“People were devastated. That felt like an emergency!” he laughed.

His wife agreed.

“There are plenty of safety signs and barriers telling me where I can’t go,” she said.

Wendee and Ed Vogel, of Merrimack, New Hampshire, are staying at Paradise Inn for a couple of days, and have already visited several places throughout the Northwest. They stayed in Olympia on Wednesday night and will be taking a river cruise on the Columbia River next week.

Last week, they stayed in the Olympic National Park at Kalaloch and have appreciated being away from televisions and telephones. Both expressed opinions against the proposal.

“This is nature! I think it would be weird if there was cell phone service. I like being off the grid for a while,” said Wendee Vogel.

Her husband, a software engineer, agreed.

“It’s good to be away from the internet. It’s not like they’re losing business without it,” said Ed Vogel, referring to the park service administration.

The couple admitted that in the case of a family emergency, they did forget to leave an itinerary telling their loved ones where they were and where they were going. 

Above: Frank and Patti Helling of Fresno, California. Helling has portrayed the life and work of naturalist John Muir for 36 years. Muir ascended Mount Rainier in 1888. After his visit, Cloud Camp was renamed Camp Muir, and Muir was instrumental in the establishment of Mount Rainier National Park. 

Frank and Patti Helling of Fresno, California are also staying at Paradise Inn for a couple of days, visiting Mount Rainier National Park for the first time. They are on vacation in Washington State to visit their grandson’s graduation in Woodland. 

Helling has portrayed the Father of the National Parks, naturalist John Muir, around campfires at Grant Grove in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and for Road Scholar, formerly Elderhostel, for 36 years. 

“I started portraying Muir when I was a substitute teacher in junior high schools. It would be an all-day birthday party for Muir, and I’d tell stories and teach the kids about his life,” he laughed.

After being told of the park’s proposed cellular service, Helling says he remembers when, a few years ago, Verizon Wireless put a cellphone tower on Park Ridge above Kings Canyon Visitor Center in Grant Grove. 

“It hasn’t been a big deal - it’s not a big ugly thing,” he said. The 80 foot tower was put into an area that was already an established telecommunications site.

Then, perhaps suddenly wondering what John Muir would think of the proposal, Helling paused, looking deep in thought.

“On the other hand, I’m not a user of social media, but I know a lot of people would be on their devices if the park had cell phone service.”

Then, Helling spread his arms upward toward the rafters of Paradise Inn, adding with expression, “They would miss all of this!”

Above: At Paradise, the snow begins to fall as a father and son take in the beauty of Mount Rainier National Park on Friday.