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Steve Prosinski FROM THE EDITOR

It really hits you just after dawn and just before dusk as you drive atop the Rimrocks heading east to the Heights or west to Zimmerman Trail.

What gorgeous times of the day. The yellow-white light of early morning fights through the leftover evening clouds and paints the Rims and Yellowstone River valley with a pastel glow. The orange-red light of sunset spreads a warm blanket across the landscape as night approaches. The colorful interplay of light and land at these bookends of the day can be stimulating, reassuring, often breathtaking.

That’s why the recent additions to this dawn-and-dusk light show are so depressing. From atop the Rimrocks, we see them blinking their message of progress to a city on the move. The white strobe lights atop our new cellular-phone towers warn of high-rise dangers — and ruin the view.

Why is it that once you see the flashing light, you can’t ignore it? Almost hypnotic, the strobe becomes an edgy focal point of what used to be a placid, panoramic view of a beautiful community. If you shift your view to avoid one incessant strobe, you are accosted by another blinking tower, and then another. There is no escape.

This isn’t just a Rim-top viewer’s lament. Hundreds of living room, bedroom and kitchen windows that once featured unfettered views of the Rims, the South Hills, the Pryors or the Beartooths now offer staccato bursts of light. As summer fades to fall and then winter, the views from windows and decks have always changed dramatically. Backyard flowers wilt and die. Trees and bushes lose their leaves. But the blinking towers know no seasons and now stand their ground, signaling through sweltering heat and frigid cold.

Beacons of progress are nothing new. We’ve lived with the soft red glows from transmission towers atop Sacrifice Cliff for decades. But this aging forest of transmitters has been largely benign, confined to a clifftop overlooking the valley it serves. Over the years, the lights blended into the background.

Perhaps someday the blinking cell towers will also become background noise and fade from view. One can hope that the march of technology toward widespread satellite communication will render such structures obsolete.

We read with interest of the City Council’s decision to deny the request to plant a cell-phone tower near the corner of Shiloh Road and Grand Avenue. More than a dozen folks from the neighborhood spoke in opposition to the proposal at Monday’s council meeting. We can celebrate that small victory.

But, alas, the battle has been lost.

More progress

Head west down the newly paved and recently reopened Rimrock Road and watch the beautiful neighborhoods tucked between the Rimrocks and the busy street roll by. Finally, as you pass the Mormon Temple near 50th Street West, the old and new neighborhoods evaporate and a stunning view of the Rimrocks opens before you — nothing between the road and the sandstone cliffs but sage, grass and a few dirt trails winding around the foothills and boulders.

It has been a place for rabbits, snakes, dog walkers, mountain bikers and weekend runners. I’ll admit, I’m one who occasionally plods on this generously accessible private property.

I wonder if many others paused as I did at the news of the council’s action annexing a portion of this open space. With annexation comes development. With development comes the loss of the last big chunk of undeveloped land along the Rims before the cliffs lose their imposing form and drift northward.

What great home sites this land will provide. But what even greater parkland this would be. If only our city coffers were overflowing so we could fill potholes, build affordable housing, plant a pool in the Heights and give landowners what they deserve for their Rimrock property — and then set the land aside forever as open space for the community to enjoy.Steve Prosinski can be reached at 657-1289, or at prosinski@billingsgazette.com

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