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Greeley is purchasing 970 acres of natural land, not the nuclear missile complex in the middle of it

This is an image of a concrete wall  at Missile Site Park with two 1960s era mural paintings on it featuring war and nuclear bomb themed visuals.
Dylan Simard/KUNC
The bunker at Missile Site Park was closed in 1965 after the missile it contained was declared defunct in the face of more modern weapons. Today the bunker holds Weld County's public records and features some artwork from the 1960s.

Greeley's Missile Site Park has a commanding view – the Rocky Mountains in their full splendor to the West, Wyoming to the North, and a vast rolling ocean of hills and farmland to the East and South. But carved into the park is an out of place blast from the past- a bomb-proof bunker designed to send a missile clear from Colorado to Russia in just a few minutes.

Kristen Wilkinson, the community conservation fellow for the City of Greeley, said she's ecstatic the city is purchasing the park and making it available to the public.

“It's a really unique landscape,” Wilkinson said. "There's these amazing arroyos and bluffs, and just a very beautiful landscape that also provides some amazing micro habitats for wildlife.”

The 970-acre property is currently held in a private trust. The City of Greeley will pay $8.5 million for the park and plans to use the property for recreation, though exactly what will be allowed is still being worked out, said Wilkinson. The park is expected to open in the spring.

The 970-acre property has a serene landscape, with views in all directions. The City of Greeley is paying $8.5 million dollars for the property. The city is presently securing the last $750,000 in funding. (Dylan Simard/KUNC)
The 970-acre property has a serene landscape, with views in all directions. The City of Greeley is paying $8.5 million dollars for the property. The city is presently securing the last $750,000 in funding. (Dylan Simard/KUNC)

“Nothing like this exists currently in Greeley," Wilkinson said, "and we're excited to be able to open this up to the public as a place where they can come out and enjoy the great outdoors. In whatever way they like to spend time outside, whether that be mountain biking, or trail running, or simply picnicking with family.”

The city is asking Greeley residents to submit feedback on what they would like the city to plan for the parcel of land. The city is still gathering the last portion of the funding for the area, but it is expected to be completed soon.

There is just one hitch. The reason it’s called Missile Site Park is because a long-decommissioned nuclear missile was once located at the site. The 60-year-old missile bunker housed an Atlas missile, which carried one of the largest bombs ever developed by humankind. Today, the bunker is carved into the landscape, hardly noticeable among the amazing views, scattered picnic tables, and platforms for tents.

The bunker itself is inaccessible to the public and is barely visible from the park. A tall, barbed wire fence surrounds the structure, which was built recessed into the ground and features colorful murals from the 1960s. One such mural features a glasses-and-helmet-clad mole with a missile in hand, next to a mural of an Atlas missile taking to the sky. Another shows an Air Force Strategic Air Command seal next to a chipmunk holding a smoking revolver, a missile, and of course with a cowboy hat upon its head.

Throughout northeastern Colorado, there are reminders like this one of the Cold War arms race. The Atlas E missile that was once stationed in the bunker was tipped with a monstrously large 4.4 megaton warhead – a weapon with nearly 300 times the explosive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Daniek Long directs the F.E. Warren ICBM (InterContinental Ballistic Missile) and Heritage Museum, at the nearby F.E. Warren Air Force Base. She says northern Colorado was chosen to house nuclear missiles because of the proximity to the Soviet Union.

According to Long, nuclear missiles then and now are designed to cruise over the Arctic– and Colorado is far enough north to be a good place to station the weapons. The state was far enough from the ocean to be out of range of submarine-launched nuclear missiles of the day. Washington and Kansas were other locations where the US stationed Atlas-E missiles.

Some retired missile locations across America have been found to be contaminated with tetrachlorethylene,the chemical,more commonly referred to as TCE, and a known toxic carcinogen. Missile Site Park has some traces of the chemical, but the park is considered safe and ongoing Army Corps of Engineers efforts are expected to continue work on the location.

These blast doors would open to allow the missile to launch. Unlike modern missile silos that store missiles upright, the facility at missile site park was designed to lift an intercontinental ballistic missile from a horizontal storage position to an upright launch position. These doors are thick enough to resist all but the largest nuclear blasts. (Dylan Simard/KUNC)
These blast doors would open to allow the missile to launch. Unlike modern missile silos that store missiles upright, the facility at missile site park was designed to lift an intercontinental ballistic missile from a horizontal storage position to an upright launch position. These doors are thick enough to resist all but the largest nuclear blasts. (Dylan Simard/KUNC)

The Atlas missile program had a short lifespan. The base at Missile Site Park was closed with the rest of the program in 1965. As for the bunker at Missile Site Park, its previous war time purpose is behind it. Instead of holding a bomb, the bunker now contains Weld County’s records. The county will retain ownership of the bunker after the purchase, and it is expected to continue in its current role— storing valuable documents behind a nuke-proof door.