21st-century intrusion or necessary convenience? Cell service coming to Sequoia National Park

You may soon be able to post your General Sherman selfies from inside Sequoia National Park.

Park officials have approved plans for America's largest telecommunication company, Verizon Wireless, to build a signal tower near Wuksachi Village. The decision came after a report stated that the project would bring no significant environmental impacts.

The proposed telecommunications center would bring year-round cell service to some of the country's most extreme terrain. Cellular coverage in the park is currently "very limited," officials said.

"Many visitors and park staff will view the service as a welcome benefit for purposes of accessibility, coordination, communication and safety," said Ginger Bradshaw, the park's environmental protection specialist.

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Officials say they will use the service to more easily and quickly communicate park conditions to visitors, including real ­time information on parking, traffic, weather and hazardous conditions.

"Cellular service will also assist the park in providing educational and interpretive materials to park visitors, information about events and activities, maps and other services, which could enhance the visitor experience and help protect park resources," Bradshaw said.

Some park visitors were unhappy with what they see as 21st-century intrusions on the vast natural wonder, however.

During a 32-day public review period, officials received 42 comments.

"Those opposed to the proposal were primarily concerned about visitors' experience of solitude, self-reliance, natural soundscapes and the ability to disconnect from technology, particularly in wilderness," Bradshaw said.

Supporters of the project, meanwhile, pointed to benefits to visitor health, safety and overall convenience. Visitor impacts were weighed as part of the project's required environmental assessment report.

"While some visitors may view cell phone service as an unwelcome intrusion, the National Parks Service is committed to a public education program to promote considerate use of cell phones in shared public facilities and spaces," Bradshaw said.

The park began working with Verizon to identify potential tower locations and feasibility in 2015. Wolverton and Lodgepole were dismissed as potential sites due to unsuitable terrain and lack of electrical power.

Park officials are now working with Verizon to design the tower, which is expected to begin construction in 2020.

Joshua Yeager covers water, agriculture, parks and housing for the Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @VTD_Joshy. Get alerts and keep up on all things Tulare County for as little as $1 a month. Subscribe today.

This article originally appeared on Visalia Times-Delta: 21st-century intrusion or necessary convenience? Cell service coming to Sequoia National Park