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Mt. Wire 'billboards' removal clears view, but disorients hikers

Published November 15, 2013 4:24 pm

CenturyLink crews take out obsolete reflectors dating to the early 1970s.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Things look a little different this week above Salt Lake City following the removal of two micro­wave reflector towers from the top of Mount Wire, also known as Big Beacon and as Red Butte Mountain.

The large 30-foot by 50-foot billboard-looking structures have overlooked the valley since the early 1970s, said Flemming Jensen, spokesman for CenturyLink, which owned the towers near Emigration Canyon.

The reflectors had facilitated communications between downtown Salt Lake City and Park City but were decommissioned as microwave technology was replaced with fiber technology, Jensen said.

Crews disassembled and removed the reflectors and supporting structures via helicopter on Nov. 9, in response to calls from residents and community officials over the years to take down the obsolete structures.

Organizing the removal of multi-ton equipment with no road access proved difficult, Jensen said.

"CenturyLink believes strongly in being an environmentally conscious company," said Larry Walters, vice president and general manager for CenturyLink in Utah. "We are happy to restore a clear view of the mountain skyline with the removal of the reflector towers."

But some hikers were disconcerted by the towers' absence.

"Mount Wire looks naked," said hiker Mark Jones, who estimated he has hiked to the towers at least 300 times. "I have been contacted by friends, hikers and geo-cachers, all of whom have expressed sorrow over the removal of the towers. They have been a landmark for hikers for decades."

Hiker Will Nesse walked up to the towers last week to watch helicopter crews fly the metal beams away.

"It's hard not to attach some personal significance to them, even though they were also simply industrial flotsam," Nesse said. "Lots of people had an affection for them, including me."

The beacon apparently won the admiration of an association called Friends Of Our Tower. A 2004 sign commemorated the landmark: "Mount Wire Tower, painted and loved by Friends Of Our Tower."

It also quotes Red Cross founder Clara Barton: "I will not allow myself to rust."

Jones acknowledged the reflectors put hikers on an unusual side of the mountain.

"Ironically, if those towers had never been built and were just being proposed today, we would all be up in arms and horrified at the idea," he said.

ealberty@sltrib.com