The Quiet Zone
No cell towers. No radio signals. No Wi-Fi.
A telescope searching for extraterrestrial life.
A place where it's normal not to have a cell phone.
Welcome to The Quiet Zone.
Watch the Intro Video (9 minutes)
Only four hours from D.C. lie 13,000 square miles of silence. Officially named The National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ), The Quiet Zone is a federal mandated radio-quiet territory handpicked by the National Science Foundation and U.S. Government in the mid-1950s due to its low population density and valleys, factors that would protect it from potential sources of electronic interference.
Within The Quiet Zone sits the rural town of Green Bank, West Virginia, population 143 and home to the Green Bank Telescope, the world’s largest steerable telescope central to America’s continuous search for extraterrestrial life.
The mandated radio-quiet of Green Bank has drawn interesting characters to the quietest place in America, many of whom are on personal searches for “quiet.” In fact, most of the residents of Green Bank today come from other parts of America and around the world. Some are tired of cell phones; some want a self-sustaining Appalachian lifestyle; some are individuals who identify themselves as “electrosensitives” with an aversion to frequencies emitted from Wi-Fi and 5G towers.
GREEN BANK TELESCOPE, WV – Jill Malusky stands on the Green Bank Telescope while it is shut down for maintenance. Jill has managed public relations for the Green Bank Observatory for the past six years. Sep. 29, 2022. (Photo/Eliza Tan)
Within a smaller 10-mile radius of the Green Bank Telescope, it is illegal to own a wireless, land-based transmitter or any device that would emit radio frequencies that threaten to interfere with the observatory’s research. A $50 state fine is still in place for any individual found to possess Wi-Fi, Bluetooth technology, or a microwave.
In a modern world where cell phones and constant connection are the unquestioned norm, The Quiet Zone brings meaning to the search for “quiet.”
People who identify as electrosensitives are grateful for The Quiet Zone. “By coincidence, because the observatory can’t use their equipment if there are cell phone towers and too much microwave radiation, a lot of electrosensitives come here because it’s the only place in the world that exists like this,” says Clover, who moved to Green Bank five years ago. “They start erecting cell phone towers, we’re in big trouble you know, if somebody is using a cell phone in a car or a bus, I very quickly start feeling suicidal. It makes life incredibly difficult.”
GREEN BANK, WV – Clover sits alone by the house she built with minimal help from contractors. Originally from California, Clover left America at the age of 22 to live the life of an expat in Europe. She claims to have traveled to 84 countries. Around 20 years ago, she started experiencing symptoms that led her to believe that she suffers from electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Although her husband left her in April, she chooses to continue to live her life out in the sanctuary provided by the presence of the Green Bank Telescope, Oct. 8, 2022. (Photo/Eliza Tan)
“Many people live within the National Radio Quiet Zone and have no idea,” says Jill Malusky, public information officer for the Green Bank Observatory.
The Quiet Zone is often dubbed the quietest place in America and, more recently, “a magnet for weirdos,” as quoted in the Stephen Kurzcy’s book titled The Quiet Zone: A Town Suspended in Silence, published in 2021. Kurzcy decided to do away with his cell phone in March 2017 to make a statement about the human overreliance on the device. He discovered Green Bank on a Google search for “places in America without cell service.”
Another group that made it to The Quiet Zone in 1984 was the United States’ most highly organized, dangerous formation of neo-Nazis. William Pierce, the founder of the National Alliance, bought around 400 acres in Southern Pocahontas County just off of Green Bank to start his group. “William Pierce himself decamped to the quietest place in America because he wanted to get away from it all—from people and modern society and law enforcement,” Kurzy said, who met neo-Nazi members of the National Alliance during his two-year stay in Green Bank. “They’re still here. The National Alliance still exists in The Quiet Zone although with a much smaller presence.”
GREEN BANK, WV – Kyle and his dog, Chief, in his Green Bank home. Originally from Ohio, he claims to have walked from Maryland in order to settle down in The Quiet Zone. He lives with his Chief and has a newfound family in West Virginia, a community of musicians just like him, Oct. 8, 2022. (Photo/Eliza Tan)
Green Bank still only boasts 143 residents as of January 2022. That is under a person per square mile. Dmitrii Vershinin, originally from Ukraine, moved from a New York City apartment near Hell’s Kitchen to a pre-civil war house in Dunmore, WV. The town of Dunmore neighbors Green Bank and sits within the 10-mile mandated, microwave-free radio quiet zone.
“I deliberately chose not to have a microwave,” he says. “It makes life very simple. I still travel to the city a lot, but I moved out here because I want to rethink our dependency on gentrification. Here’s a different lifestyle.” To pay for house renovations in a rural place that is hard to find service contractors, Vershinin runs an Airbnb out of his home that attracts those desiring a break from the constant digital connectivity of modern life. “I find that many people who come stay here with me understand the value of down time and not watching Netflix 24/7.”
DUNMORE, WV – Dmitrii stands in front of his pre-civil war home with a Ukrainian flag around his shoulders. In search for a life of simplicity, he moved from New York City to Dunmore, WV, the neighboring town to Green Bank, also situated within the strict 10 mile radius within The Quiet Zone. He participates as an Airbnb host in order to get the funds necessary to renovate it. He is currently helping his sister and her family move to the United States from their hometown of Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct. 8, 2022. (Photo/Eliza Tan)
Like Kurzcy, Vershinin loves how life in Green Bank trained him to not have to rely on a cell phone. His newest residents are a couple of asylum-seekers from China, and his previous ones were a couple living out of their RV and traveling across the United States and Europe running their own business. He also offered housing to a man in his twenties from the Netherlands, who stayed for about a month helping Vershinin plant his garden of peppers, tomatoes, and junipers. Regarding the electrosensitive residents of The Quiet Zone, however, Vershinin worries that “they might become a disenfranchised community” because they can become militant about enforcing the laws prohibiting Wi-Fi. “We obviously have to live together in harmony, but they accuse us of hurting them with our Wi-Fi.”
Although Vershinin does not have a microwave, he did install Wi-Fi in his Airbnb because he is “not living in a cave.” Is this against the law? Yes. But Vershinin isn’t the only one. An unnamed Quiet Zone cop who works at Green Bank Observatory does occasional patrols of the area looking for illegal wireless transmitters, which would incur a $50 state fine. According to a 2020 report conducted by the observatory, he detected around 250 Wi-Fi hotspots within ten miles of the observatory.
DUNMORE, WV – Laura lays in one of the beds provided by Dmitry to his Airbnb residents. She describes The Quiet Zone has full of extremely weird individuals, albeit interesting, but wonders about potential for social mobility in the region. Oct. 10, 2022. (Photo/Eliza Tan)
Dean’s Den, a local diner around seven miles from the observatory also installed Wi-Fi recently in 2021 to accommodate the demands of their customers. Carrie, an electrosensitive who works at Dean’s Den, is being forced to tolerate the Wi-Fi though she claims that it hurts her daily.
Unable to stop the spread of Wi-Fi, the Green Bank Observatory is trying instead to maintain amicable community relations. Brenne Gregory, a data analyst at the observatory, said in an interview, “The observatory is working on technology that can cut out signals that match the frequencies emitted from Wi-Fi routers and microwaves because we know we can’t keep wireless technology out completely.” However, the frequencies still interfere with scientific research being conducted, and ideally, Gregory adds, “we would work with the community to keep electromagnetic frequencies out of the region.”
GREEN BANK, WV – (top) Shani picks apples by a fellow electrosensitive's old trailer home. (bottom) Shani stands in what is slowly becoming his rug store. Originally from Los Angeles, Shani picked up his rug business and life to escape 5G towers that were being erected by his store because he claims 5G was causing him headaches. Although a sensitive, Shani is not sensitive to Wi-Fi like many of the other sensitives. He claims that he simply cannot be around the presence of 5G towers. Oct. 9, 2022. (Photo/Eliza Tan)
As the growing human need for constant connectivity and digital spaces continues, will Green Bank become indistinguishable from the rest of Appalachia?
The Quiet Zone isn’t really that quiet anymore.
GREEN BANK OBSERVATORY, WV – The Green Bank Telescope sits on US Government territory and is accessible remotely to a handful of researchers, scientists, and analysts. It is the world’s largest steerable telescope. Sep. 29, 2022. (Photo/Eliza Tan)