KEWEENAW COUNTY, Mich. (WJMN) – Hidden in the vast forests of the Keweenaw Peninsula sits a piece of the area’s history. In fact, it’s so hidden that many people have forgotten what it once was, the Calumet Air Force Station.
“The Calumet Air Force Station was a group of radar stations that were all commissioned in the late 40s, early 50s, I believe there are about 30 of them all across the northern U.S.,” said Zach Garner, a member of Open Skies Project. “They were built after World War II as the Cold War started to ignite. We needed as a country early warning radar to see if [the Soviet Union] was sending any bombers over the Arctic Circle.”
The Calumet Air Force Station closed in 1988 and then became a reform school called the Keweenaw Academy.
“Unfortunately, shortly after that started, within a span of a few years actually, the state changed the funding model for students. And because most of the students that were up here were not from this county, they were no longer to receive funding for them so that program was shut down,” said Garner.
The site permanently closed around 2005 and has sat dormant ever since. Up until last year, when Keweenaw County auctioned off the property. Garner and Ian Sorensen from lower Michigan put in a winning bid of $250,000. They have since developed what they call the Open Skies Project with a group of family and friends with a mission to restore the property.
“Long term basically what we’re looking at is we want to turn this area up here on the hill into a public space, some kind of museum, some kind of park because it is the highest point in the Keweenaw Peninsula. The views are amazing we want people to experience this as well. And then similarly with the rest of the facility, we’d like to reutilize the buildings that are salvageable for some short-term rentals, maybe a hotel, a motel get some of the houses back up as cabins that kind of thing.”
The Open Skies Project owns 74 buildings on the base. With many years of the property sitting vacant, it left the buildings vulnerable to the harsh U.P. winters and vandalism.
“We’re going to try and save all the buildings that we can, and really the bonus if it being such a late closing it usually means that we have practically like 90 percent of the buildings here still originally,” said Ian Sorensen, Open Skies Project member, and property caretaker. “A lot of the other bases that we have identified elsewhere, you might have one to two towers left. You might have maybe six buildings out of the dozens and dozens that used to be there. The fact that we can look out and practically see what a base used to look like in the Cold War era. We want to try and keep that as much as we can and just show people what’s here. It’s been closed off so we want to open it up to people so they can actually see what’s here.”
The Open Skies Project has no projected date of when the property will be fully restored. In the meantime, the group is holding walking tours of the old Calumet Air Force Station every Saturday during the summer months. To book a tour or to donate to the project, you can visit www.openskiesproject.org/.