Parks Canada mulls plan to put cell phone towers inside national parks

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Ah, wilderness. It's what Canada's national parks are all about. The moose, the bears, the mountains, the forests, the, ah, cellphone towers?

Well, yes. As you motor through the parks marvelling at Canada's natural wonders, your teenage daughter reserves the right to keep up a steady text conversation with her friends on how eye-rollingly boring this trip is. And your son, he's deep into Call of Duty right now, so forget the big-horn sheep grazing on the ridge.

Parks Canada says it's working on a proposal with Telus Mobility to improve cell coverage in mountain parks, the Calgary Herald reports. The plan calls for up to eight towers to be erected, six along Highway 93 South in Kootenay National Park, and two along the Trans-Canada Highway in Yoho National Park.

“We’d like to see coverage at those locations,” Caroline Marion, Parks Canada’s manager of townsites and realty for the Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay field unit, told the Herald. “We think it’s got potential visitor safety benefits and public safety benefits.”

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Telus spokesman Chris Gerritsen told the Herald the big telecom is excited about the project.

“It can be a lonely stretch of road,” he said, referring to Highway 93 South to Radium, B.C. “A lot of Albertans, especially coming from Calgary, travel that road.

“It’s geographically challenging ... there’s lots of twists and turns and highs and lows, so it has to be done right,” he said,

Marion said the towers' coverage would not include back-country areas of the parks. So while you can summon a tow truck if your car breaks down, there'll be no calling for help if you're treed by a grizzly.

"We heard from our visitors and from other parks colleagues in the [United] States and throughout Canada most visitors want to maintain the wilderness experience so we will be working with Telus on the radius of coverage and just focus it on the highway area," she told CBC News.

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So your mountain hike may not be troubled by someone's Born This Way ringtone. But the towers themselves may be harder to conceal. Marion said Parks Canada will work with Telus to "ensure the aesthetic impact is minimized."

You wonder how that might be accomplished, given the imposing nature of cellphone towers. Maybe they'll disguise them as giant trees, like they're doing in Ontario's Muskoka cottage country.

The project, which is at least two or three years away, will undergo an environmental-impact study and include feedback from the public, the Herald said.