PHILIP, SD -
In the 1960s, an open field near Wall, SD, was a vital link in the Cold War by serving as home to ten Minuteman Missile silos.
Today, that same area is a National Historic Site designed to teach visitors about a national security effort that was largely underground and out of sight.
To many it may only look like ranchland, but the stretch of prairie was at the frontline of one the most dangerous potential conflicts the world has ever known.
"This facility down here controlled ten Minuteman II nuclear tipped missiles that were stationed around here in about a 16-mile radius," park interpreter and historian Butch Davis said.
At the end of the Cold War, there were nearly 100 of the sites across the Midwest. Now, more than 20 years later, the Wall site is the only one that's open to the public.
"As far as Minuteman sites go, we're the only one in North America that anyone can visit," Davis said.
It's a popular destination, drawing more than 48,000 visitors in 2010.
"We have people from all over the United States, we have people from all over the world visit," Davis said.
Since 2004, the site has been using two temporary trailers to house the administrative offices and visitor's center.
"We're in a temporary facility right now. We don't have a lot of space," Davis said.
But, legislation introduced by Senator Tim Johnson would transfer 25 acres of land to the park so a new facility could be built.
"We need that in order to better provide visitor services. This place is kind of small. If you can imagine, in the summer this being overrun with folks waiting just to get into the movie, to get their tickets," park superintendent Ruben Andrade said.
If approved by Congress, plans are to build a center that's nearly 8,000 square feet.
"The whole purpose of that would be to better tell the story, provide a place where the visitor can make a connection to this site and the Cold War story," Andrade said.
"Cold War history is also South Dakota history. This was a major part of what was going on in the United States from the early 60s up until the 90s," Davis said.
For now, it serves as a quiet reminder of South Dakota's role in U.S. history.
Tours of the launch control center and missile silo are available seven days a week, all year round. The facilities are located a couple miles east of Wall off interstate 90.
For more information visit the National Park Service Minuteman Missile website
© 2011 KELOLAND TV. All Rights Reserved.