May 27--Stuck in traffic in downtown Yacolt last week, I noticed what appeared to be a large Douglas fir tree growing behind the business district. What struck me as initially odd was that the branches were all identically trimmed. I next noticed that a huge crane was posed next to the tree and eventually determined that the tree was under construction. I have never seen an artificial tree of this magnitude and am truly puzzled as to why it's growing in Yacolt. It's not like they don't have the real thing in close proximity.
It sure would seem odd for a tree to be under construction way out in the sticks up north, but Vilhauer's eyes didn't deceive him. What he saw was a new cellphone tower designed to look like a full-grown evergreen tree.
Thousands of similar structures have popped up across the U.S. in the past few decades as service providers continue to expand their coverage areas. Some like the towers for their attempt to blend in with the natural environment. Others find them tacky eyesores.
And they come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, with some resembling palm trees, cacti or a variety of evergreens.
Yacolt Mayor Jeff Carothers said AT&T installed the 150-foot-tall structure earlier this year. After studying several areas of north Clark County, the company concluded the best location for a new cell tower was smack dab in the middle of downtown Yacolt, right behind the Red Fir Inn restaurant and tavern.
"They found that there was a dead spot in their coverage for north county," Carothers said. "Because of the location there in the center of town, I brought up the idea to AT&T of making it look like a tree."
The company was a little apprehensive about it, because it's about three times the cost to build that kind of tower. But at Carothers' insistence, AT&T went forward with it anyway.
"It's not perfect, but it's better than just a post with a bunch of antennas on it," Carothers said. "It's less intrusive than your typical tower."
The Yacolt Town Council held several public meetings about the project to gather feedback from the community before giving AT&T the go-ahead. Overall, residents have been pretty happy about the improved cellphone coverage in the remote town of about 1,600 people, Carothers said.
Vilhauer was also happy to hear the news after sending that initial email to The Columbian.
"A cellphone tower? A good thing because cell service in the metropolis of Yacolt was incommunicado," he said.
Of course, Vilhauer isn't the only one who's kept a good sense of humor about the tower.
"We've had some pretty positive feedback," Carothers said. "Some people have joked about it and wondered if that's going to be our new Christmas tree and put lights on it."
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