Old missile site at Alaska base gives first tour

Associated Press Published: September 22, 2012
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JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska (AP) — Seeking knowledge about the Cold War?

Just look up.

Perched atop a 4,000-foot mountain in Arctic Valley sits Site Summit — a Nike Hercules missile site on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

One hundred lucky individuals were the first to take a public tour of the launch site on a recent sunny Saturday.

Site Summit is the only one of 145 Nike Hercules sites to survive as a nearly complete site.

And Jim Renkert wants to keep it that way.

Renkert, director of Friends of Nike Site Summit (FONSS), wants to restore as much of the launch site as possible to educate people about the Cold War.

"You need to preserve your heritage," he said.

With views of the Chugach Mountains, Alaska Range and Talkeetna Mountains, Site Summit also offers more than a history lesson, Renkert said.

"You get to see a historical site, and you get the beautiful views," he said.

FONSS was created in 2007 and restoration started on three sentry buildings two summers ago. At first, the project seemed a little too daunting, Renkert said.

"When we started, we were at the bottom of a very long climb," he said. "We've come a long way since then."

It took more than 800 volunteer hours to refurbish the sentry stations, Renkert said. Now, FONSS is in the process of restoring the launch control building, the missile maintenance building and dog kennels used to house German Shepherd guard dogs.

Site Summit was one of three protecting Anchorage from long-range Soviet Union bombers from 1959 to 1979. The other sites were located at Kincaid Park (Point Site) and Goose Bay (Site Bay).

It was also one of two Nike Hercules sites that conducted live fire exercises.

Cities always had at least three launch sites, said Bruce Long, who conducted radar maintenance on Nike sites in the late 1960s. One was on firing status, another for backup while the third was under maintenance, he said.

As a last line of defense, Nike Hercules missiles had a range of 100 miles and could reach 100,000 feet in elevation, Long said.

Nike Hercules missiles became obsolete after the introduction of the intercontinental ballistic missile. Site Summit was one of the last sites to close in 1979.

Due to the necessary secrecy, many are unaware that these Nike sites existed, Long said — another reason why preserving Site Summit is crucial.

"It was all top secret," he said. "A whole generation missed it."

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