Group Repairs Alaskan Nike Missile Site
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Sept. 28, 2010
During the Cold War, the U.S. government built more than 200 Nike Hercules Missile launch sites to defend cities from potential attack. Today, only a few remain intact—including one that is visible from downtown Anchorage, Alaska.
Last weekend, as part of an agreement with the U.S. Army, a group of volunteers completed restoration of three sentry structures at the site known as Summit, located just east of Anchorage in the Chugach Mountains.
"Our goal was to complete three buildings this summer, and we've finished all three," says Jim Renkert, director of Friends of Nike Site Summit, which formed in 2007 to implement recommendations from a 2001 government report on the site. Eventually, Renkert's group wants to establish a Cold War monument at Site Summit, which closed in 1979. "Really what we want to do is showcase Alaska's mountaintop fortress and educate people about the Cold War."
The Western Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation became a consulting party in the Section 106 process when it learned of the Army's plan to demolish 12 historic structures at Site Summit—nearly half of the historic structures in the National Register-listed district. "When the Army realized that the cost of demolition would far exceed that of structural stabilization in studies requested by the consulting parties, it came to a mutually agreeable outcome," says Brian Turner, an attorney in the Western Office. "It has been a remarkable victory not only because it resulted in the protection of a piece of our Cold War heritage, but because it proves the effectiveness of the Section 106 process, which emphasizes the role of consultation in achieving preservation goals."
Having met its first goal, as specified in a programmatic agreement with the Army, the Friends group hopes to implement the next phase of the project during the summer of 2011: restoring the site's Launch Building and Missile-Maintenance Building.
"It has been a lot of work," says Darrell Lewis, historian at the National Park Service's Alaska Regional Office in Anchorage, who spent a total of two weeks at the site helping the Friends group with restoration.
The volunteers removed lead-based paint from the three small guard houses, scraped paint and repainted, repaired roofs, and re-installed windows and doors. Two of the wood houses were constructed in 1959, and the third dates to the mid-1970s.
Next summer, they will repair the sheet-metal exterior of the two-story Missile-Maintenance Building, a project that the Army estimates will cost $115,000. Stabilization of the Launch Building will cost about $400,000, the Army last estimated.
"The idea is basically to stabilize the buildings," Lewis says. "They've been sitting up there for 30 years, and the interiors are pretty well shot. To do a complete restoration is just impossible on those buildings. … Once we get the place stabilized, we can start bringing people up there on tours."
Future tourists will appreciate "the amazing lengths the government went to to build this site," Lewis says. And the setting isn't bad, either. "Being on a 4,000-foot mountain in Alaska—needless to say, the views up there are amazing."
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