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Mount Washburn Fire Lookout

Yellowstone Officials Say Adding Antennae to Mount Washburn Fire Lookout Would Have Negative Impact

Park officials have determined adding new communications towers to the Mount Washburn Fire Lookout would have a detrimental scenic impact.

In light of this announcement, Yellowstone National Park will consult Wyoming preservation officials on how to mitigate this issue.

According to the Billings Gazette, the Washburn proposal would consist of “a three-sided mounting structure with 40-foot towers for cellular antennae and other equipment.”

January 2017, we reported the park was seeking public comment on whether to put additional antennae on the Fire Lookout in order to boost cell signals in parts of the park. Yellowstone later opened an additional comment period in May. From the Gazette:

The determination that the Mt. Washburn proposal would have an “adverse” visual effect was included in a letter from Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk to preservation officials that was obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Park officials will consult with Wyoming’s historic preservation office on ways to minimize or offset the equipment’s visual impact, said Yellowstone spokeswoman Morgan Warthin.

The new towers and mounting structure would allow for the removal of telecommunications equipment that’s been installed on the lookout tower over the course of decades, park officials have said.

Wyoming Historic Preservation Officer Mary Hopkins said that would benefit the structure itself but there still would be visual impacts.

“I don’t think it’s going to look any worse,” Hopkins said. “Our concern is the historic structure and the effect on that only — not whether there’s cell service.”

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has routinely criticized the park for its handling of cell coverage, saying the detriments associated with expanded coverage (“spillover” into backcountry areas, cell access overriding people’s desire to see the park) outweigh any benefits.

Indeed, PEER executive director Jeff Ruch, speaking to the Gazette, described both the antennae and the Mount Washburn Fire Lookout as “ugly and it’s about to get ugly squared.”

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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