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Greenbrier pine tree cell tower helping community
Truth be told, it's really a cell tower disguised as a 100-foot-tall eastern white pine tree that's bringing the rural and technology-challenged Greenbrier Valley up to speed in the 21st century.
John Johnson, director of corporate communications for Verizon, described the "monopine" as the latest in stealthy cell tower construction that uses one of Mother Nature's original designs to conceal high-technology data services.
"Prior to constructing the monopine, Verizon customers could only roam on the network for West Virginia Wireless. You were able to place and receive calls, but you couldn't use any of the data services," Johnson said. "And getting a call through was a bit of a hit-and-miss situation depending upon your location, but now you've got a greater capacity for signal coverage and all of the services such as data and text messages, ringtones, GPS navigation and wireless Internet."
Johnson said when his company acquired the license to offer wireless service in the Greenbrier Valley, engineers examined the terrain using computer models for "determining the best way to serve the largest area with the fewest cellular antennas."
"One of our search areas was located on the resort's property," Johnson said. "We approached The Greenbrier and found them very receptive to placing a wireless tower on their property to provide guests the kind of voice and data services they need to conduct business."
Hotel guests had complained for years about the lack of cell coverage at the four-star resort, and the ability to use high-tech gadgets on their grounds was one of the components in the recent $50 million renovation project originally overseen by former resort president Paul Ratchford.
Johnson said it took about 10 days to construct the cell tower at a cost of $140,000 -- four times the amount of a regular cell tower. The tower was constructed last December on one of the highest peaks in White Sulphur Springs (Reservoir Hill, about 2,200 feet above sea level) and less than 100 yards from the resort's massive water reservoir that's a familiar landmark in the Spa City. The aging white reservoir and its large white columns that resemble the resort's famous springhouse are currently being replaced, officials said.
The monopine is also located within 100 yards of a few of the multimillion-dollar Greenbrier Sporting Club homes, but appears to be out of any of the homes' direct sight lines. The fake tree has also been constructed to allow other phone companies to hook up. Verizon Wireless has since opened a new sales store in downtown White Sulphur Springs.
The bark is an epoxy material applied directly to a galvanized steel core. The monopole is clad with the epoxy bark before it's lifted by crane and bolted upright onto threaded studs set into a concrete slab.
When this section is upright, the antennae systems are mounted near its top, Johnson said, and are hidden among tree branches made from epoxy with polypropylene (plastic) needles. Some of the branches are hollow to allow for wires, and others are bendable, he said.
In total, this monopine, which Johnson believes is the first of its kind in West Virginia, was fitted with 216 branches that begin about 20 feet from the ground. The fake tree does not require any flashing lights because it's less than 200 feet tall, he said.
"The branches are cast from real tree branches and connected to the mast, which conceals the antenna array without blocking their signal," Johnson said. "The monopine's lifelike nonreflective color comes from several different shades of brown."
The result is a tree that blends in well with its surroundings, despite the fact that at its base, large electric wires connect the tree to a nearby building which houses more of the monopine's infrastructure. When people are driving east on U.S. 60 and at various points on the grounds of the resort -- which quietly celebrated its 230th birthday this year -- the monopine is only recognizable because about a quarter of the tree juts beyond the normal skyline of other trees in the area.
"We've heard from many guests at the resort who looked directly at it and couldn't tell it was an antenna," Johnson said. "That's the ultimate compliment."
Other stealthy designs for cell towers include fake cacti, flag poles and hiding them inside church steeples, he said.
Mike Keatley, director of information and technology at The Greenbrier, said the monopine is a win-win situation for the resort and surrounding community. He said a taller, more traditional cell tower was also constructed on hotel-owned property near Sporting Club in nearby Hart's Run, allowing for even more coverage in the area.
"The monopine has given us the opportunity to provide better cell phone coverage to hotel guests than we've had in the past," Keatley said. "And to also preserve and maintain the ambiance of The Greenbrier."