PIERRE, S.D. – At one time in western South Dakota, there were 150 United States Minuteman missiles and 15 Launch Control Facilities acting as silent sentinels maintaining peace for Americans. Two of these sites, Delta-01 Launch Control Facility and the Delta-09 Launch Facility, have been preserved as a Minuteman Missile National Historic Site to provide visitors with a unique Cold War history lesson; this is one of South Dakota’s Great Places.
The year was 1961, and the United States Air Force began buying secret weapons and putting them beneath the prairie grasses of South Dakota. These missiles were never launched. They did, however, act as a powerful deterrent during the Cold War.
Many citizens and visitors alike never knew just how close they were to the below-ground, nuclear-tipped missiles. The deadly missiles were buried beneath not only South Dakota’s rural landscape, but across several Midwestern states for more than 30 years. While their locations were top-secret, their destructive power was well-known.
It wasn’t until 1991 that President George H. W. Bush and the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. This treaty called for the reduction of the number of nuclear weapons across the world. Soon thereafter, the South Dakota missile launch stations were deactivated.
The South Dakota launch control facilities were favored for preservation because they were among the nation’s oldest; the technology dated back to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Only small modifications have been made to the deactivated sites; much of the original mechanical equipment and historic furnishings remain.
The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is the only National Park Service site devoted to Cold War History. Visitors are led from the Visitor Contact Station by a ranger for tours of a facility which operated ten Minuteman II missiles. The contact station also houses exhibits, artifacts, and an orientation video.
Tours include an above-ground and below-ground look at the site and are offered year-round. Tickets are free and issued on a first come, first served basis. Tours last approximately 30 minutes. Delta-09 missile silo site, located off I-90 at exit 116, can be explored on your own daily with a guided cell phone tour also available May-October.
South Dakota’s Great Places weekly press release series is a project of the South Dakota Department of Tourism, designed to highlight places in South Dakota that are unique to travelers and residents alike. Click on the “South Dakota’s Great Places” link at www.MediaSD.com to access the complete list of articles.