What does that green panel on the Siskiyous do?

A close up view of the green, dooted panel and radio tower that sits on a mountain peak just west of the Siskiyou Summit. 3/5/07 Denise Baratta

If it were a billboard, it would have a prime location.

It stands along the Siskiyou Summit east of Interstate 5. Southbound motorists on Interstate 5 can see it just as they pass the Mount Ashland exit, but it's easy to ignore, because it's green. Not the same green as the trees, but green enough to fade into the hillside unless you're looking for it.

Turns out, the big green slab is one of the many devices that help modern communications equipment function in Southern Oregon's mountainous terrain. It's an aluminum reflector panel that Qwest Communications uses to transmit signals down into the little community of Colestin, on the south slope of the Siskiyous.

The round dots are big rivets that hold the three pieces of the reflector together, says Bob Gravely, a Qwest spokesman in Portland.

Gravely says places such as Colestin are too remote to be connected to the telephone network by copper wire. Calls to Colestin are beamed from transmitters on Baldy Peak, just south and east of Medford, up to the Siskiyou reflector and then down into the Colestin valley.

Reflectors are needed because radio signals travel in straight lines. Southern Oregon's many steep, narrow valleys make all kinds of radio communication more difficult.

Reflectors are used to bounce signals, along with devices called repeaters that pick up signals and beam them into places that would otherwise be out of radio contact.

Radio communications are critical for law enforcement agencies, county workers and the U.S. Forest Service, to name just a few. There's a network of repeaters across the Cascades and Siskiyous that allow police agencies and road workers to stay in touch.

Portable repeaters can be placed in specific areas to improve radio communications for search-and-rescue organizations and police during special emergencies.

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