Long-awaited cellphone tower rises up in Anchorage's Kincaid Park, disguised as a tree

Rope pulleys helped construction crews put finishing touches Wednesday on fiberglass "branches" for a new cellphone tower in Anchorage's Kincaid Park — an evergreen tree disguise for a structure aimed at delivering widespread emergency cellphone service to the park for the first time.  

The 65-foot-tall tower, built by GCI, sits prominently atop a knoll over the soccer stadium and is expected to be fully operating by May, officials said. It's designed to cover 911 calls for a large swath of Kincaid, the popular, 15,000-acre recreation area known for cellphone dead zones.

Text and data will also be available for GCI customers, with crews also installing a fiber optic cable in the coming weeks. Those services may expand to include other carriers in the future, said GCI spokesperson Heather Handyside.

[Prior coverage: Better cellphone service is finally coming to Kincaid Park in Anchorage]

GCI is paying roughly $1 million to build the tower, which has long been sought by police and fire officials as well as skiers, bikers, motorcross racers and other regular park users.

The tower was seen as a risky investment for GCI. It's on city parkland, and a lease would have had to go to a public vote. But Mayor Ethan Berkowitz's administration and GCI instead agreed to permit the land, which can be revoked on short notice.

But GCI officials said public safety concerns trumped financial uncertainty.

"We think the tower's going to greatly improve communication," Handyside said. "And though it was a small risk, we thought it was worth it."

The company had hoped to finish the project sooner, said Becky Windt Pearson, a lawyer for GCI. But the "winter to end all winters" hit.  

"It feels like every week, we had 3 feet of snow when we were trying to trench," Pearson said.  

The new tower is positioned on a hill overlooking the soccer stadium at the end of Raspberry Road, near Kincaid Chalet. Some call it a spruce disguise, others say it looks more like a pine — a very lone pine.

On Wednesday, a crew from Steelhead Communications worked to disguise the new tower. Working in a steady, bitter breeze, the Steelhead crew added a covering made to resemble branches, using rope pulleys to raise the branches to two men on the tower.

The branches have a core of PVC pipe and are wrapped in fiberglass.

This is GCI's third camouflaged tower in the Anchorage Bowl. One is in Chugiak; a second is in Rogers Park.

Camouflage towers are common across the Lower 48, but have only recently come to Alaska as telecommunications companies move past engineering concerns about winter maintenance.

Marc Lester contributed reporting.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.