After a long campaign, a group of Valley residents has succeeded in making Highway 93 through Kootenay National Park a little more connected, a move those involved hope makes the drive at least a bit safer.

The Committee to Secure Communications Facilities in Kootenay National Park has been pushing for more and better communications options through the park — particularly the long stretch of Highway 93 between Storm Mountain Lodge and the Radium hot pools that has no cellphone or wifi service — for almost a full year, arguing that such efforts will make it easier for those involved in or witness to traffic accidents to get in touch with emergency services, allowing them to get on scene much faster.

Following a meeting on Tuesday, December 19th, the committee is delighted to announce that Parks Canada has installed an emergency radio call box at Kootenay Crossing.

In a formal statement issued to the Pioneer committee chair Tracy Litchfield expressed delight at the new emergency radio call box, pointing out that increased safety of the travelling public has always been the committee’s overriding goal.

“It feels great, especially at this time of year (winter time),” she added to the Pioneer. “We are quite happy we’ve finally got something in the middle of the park.”

Kootenay Crossing is located roughly halfway through the no cellphone zone along Highway 93, 56 kilometres from Storm Mountain Lodge and 40 kilometres from Radium Hot Springs. Parks Canada maintains an operations buildings there, on the north side of the highway, where the Beaverfoot Forest Service Road intersects the highway.

“It’s almost right in the middle, so it’s the perfect spot,” said Ms. Litchfield, adding that Parks Canada is currently working on signage to make the public more aware about the new radio call box.

Drivers who pull off Highway 93 will initially encounter a substantial gate, part of the wildlife fencing that now runs much of the length of the highway through the park, but will be able to get past it simply by pushing a button. Once through the gate they will see the Parks Canada operations building. The bright red emergency radio call box is attached to the exterior of the building’s eastern wall, right at eye level. To use the call box to reach emergency services personnel, people need only to open the box and follow the instructions printed inside.

Although Ms. Litchfield and the committee are quite pleased with the box, they will continue working to establish other emergency facilities.

The December 19th meeting involved Parks Canada officials, Ms. Litchfield, fellow committee members Colleen Roberts and Terry Curley, Columbia Valley RCMP Sergeant Bob Vatamaniuck, Radium Hot Springs mayor Clara Reinhardt, and Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) Area F director Wendy Booth.

Aside from the emergency radio call box, other options (each with varying advantages, disadvantages and price tags) had been put forward for discussion by the committee, including Inreach satellite communicators; Spot Satellite GPS messengers; Code Blue kiosks; 4 Text Anywhere devices; and extended cell phone coverage.