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The Tower Blocking Massanutten Gap

Cell phone tower wars wage all across the land. Phone companies try to disguise the ugly towers as trees, tuck them away in industrial zones or put them alongside big highways. But inevitably, as coverage needs increase, some of the towers end up marring gorgeous views.

A new battle is waging in the Shenandoah, in an especially beautiful spot that I've written about in the past. The view from the college league baseball park in New Market, Va., is breathtaking, but now a cell tower rises up over the outfield fence to block the previously virgin view of New Market Gap. Reader Roberta Rogers describes the spot:

This place, this vista, this crossing, is photographed, painted, or noticed by every person who ever comes here. It is enjoyed by astronomers and meteorologists as the sun and moon rise through its unique "square" space in the spring and fall solstices. It is studied in awe by historians and students who visualize Stonewall Jackson and his thousands of troops toiling over this gap. The road winding up toward the Gap is the focal point of artist Helen Jean Smith's well-known painting "December in New Market," even as "The Seven Bends" are the focal point of her Woodstock painting. New Market Gap is, indeed, "an important and enduring symbol."

Those of us who live here love the sweep of Massanutten from Short Mountain and Moreland Gap to the northeast down the 25 miles to Massanutten Resort as seen from U. S. Route 211 just before we start up the Gap. We love the hint of "come hither and see what's on the other side" as the Gap's opening pulls our gaze upward. Everywhere the vista has been unbroken, unblemished. New Market Gap on Massanutten Mountain has been an icon for almost three centuries--and as an unbroken view for ages before that.

But now, with a new cell tower planted smack in the line of vision between ballpark and mountain, everything has changed:

In every photo you will clearly see the basic stanchion of a cell tower, a huge cell tower. This tower, when covered with its antennae, will be the most visible thing from our town, the highway, the air, the baseball field, the golf course and our homes. It will most likely have a strobe on it to flash white by day and red lights to warn aircraft at night. Every person who visits New Market from now on will see it before they see the Gap. This cell tower dominates the landscape. Our icon, our unique view, is defaced and destroyed. This tower will become the new icon of New Market. "Oh what a shame...," visitors will say as they see what we let happen to our view.

Rogers and others are pushing local authorities to have the tower taken down. There is precedent for citizens prevailing on such matters--most famously, a cell tower in Gettysburg was taken down because it destroyed the views through the historic battlefields. Should that precedent be applied in New Market? Obviously, the view isn't what it was; on the other hand, this is not Gettysburg.

But it's also true that the tower need not be on exactly that site. There's plenty of open land in all directions from that spot, and a move a mile or so north or south would indeed restore the view that Rogers laments losing. Shouldn't aesthetics play some role in the placement of cell towers?

By Marc Fisher |  January 12, 2007; 12:43 PM ET
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Please recocile allowing local aesthetics to trump with having problems concerning historic preservation.

Posted by: J | January 12, 2007 12:50 PM

Wouldn't moving it "a mile to two" in another direction ruin someone else's view? And would that location work? How do you know it would, as you claim?

Posted by: BDTLR, VA | January 12, 2007 12:54 PM

"a mile or so north or south" might not work if they are trying to provide coverage for people in the Gap.

Posted by: wiredog | January 12, 2007 2:20 PM

Maybe the wildlife that lived there before the people who built New Market thought that New Market ruined the view.

The hubris that humans have is just amazing. They walk into some area, claim it for themselves to "get away from everyone else", and then get upset when others do it, too. Stonewall Jackson's army was just another thing, like the cell phone tower, that destroyed the natural beauty of the area.

As long as we humans try to live somewhere, regardless of cell phone towers, we've already destroyed its natural beauty. So, get over it already!

Posted by: Ryan | January 12, 2007 10:18 PM

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