Members of the county parks board on Wednesday took back up discussions of expanding high-speed internet service to unserved areas of Ouabache Trails Park.
Finishing out a project now years in the making, however, will be costly.
Tim Trotter, owner of Echo Wireless, went before board members with a plan to extend internet service — which could also serve to boost cell phone service — up to the campgrounds and down into the area commonly known as the Lower Loop, all for a total of $16,000.
Over the last few years, parks administrators have pursued the installation of high-speed internet in the upper portion of Ouabache Trails Park, primarily servicing the Nature Center, administrative offices and the maintenance shop.
Parks officials long ago erected a donated 180-foot cell tower near the Nature Center, which now connects that portion of the park to WiFi available at the Knox County Courthouse downtown.
The parks board split the cost of that overall project with county elected officials.
The next phase of the project, Trotter explained, would be to fully outfit another, slightly shorter tower — which has also been donated to the parks system — which has already been erected inside the campgrounds.
“That’s done, there is power to it,” Trotter explained. “And it’s all paid for with your own funds and matching funds from the county. We also have some equipment that was purchased last year, which has been installed but isn’t yet active.”
This next phase, he said, would be to finish that part out, officially extending high-speed internet to campers and install the infrastructure to do the same in the Lower Loop.
This build-out, too, Trotter explained, would allow for the installation of additional safety cameras throughout the park.
And with so many expected to descend upon the Ouabache Trails Park for the Solar Eclipse on April 8, 2024, sooner is likely better than later, he said.
“We’ve finished the lion’s share of this project — the big stuff — it’s just this part that is left,” Trotter said.
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Parks board members seemed eager to finish the project; a lack of high-speed internet and cell service inside the park has been a problem for years.
There are many who stay at the campgrounds for months, people who would greatly appreciate access to high-speed internet, pointed out board president Tina Kunkler-Laake.
“And in the Lower Loop, those are people who stop here for an afternoon, people who need to be able to make a phone call, send a text.
“But how do we pay for it?” she asked.
Board members agreed that they could go back before county elected officials to see if they would agree to again put up half the cost of finishing the project.
They, too, wondered if there might be grants available for such things, especially with the state’s recent focus on the build-out of high-speed internet infrastructure in rural areas.
“I’m not sure it’s wise to right now just say, ‘Let’s roll,’ ” Kunkler-Laake said, to which the board agreed. “We are definitely interested, but we want to make sure we’re doing this the right way.”
“It’s definitely something we’d like to see happen,” added board member Troy Hinkle, an appointee from the Knox County Soil and Water Conservation District.
With the Solar Eclipse still nearly a year away, the board has time to explore some funding options before moving forward. Trotter, too, said once they give him the green light, he can likely have it up and running in a month’s time.
“And a lot of that will just be waiting for parts,” he said.
Board members agreed to keep the proposal from Echo Wireless on their agenda as they look for ways to fund the project in the coming months.
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