April 28: Sprint Launch Site
Today, we recognize another North Dakota listing in the National Register of Historic Places. In Cavalier County, about 17 miles east of Langdon, 43 acres of land are enclosed within four perimeter fences. Hardened remote launch operations exist below the earth, with two concrete ventilation towers above ground, along with sentry stations. The Sprint missile launch area contained 17 launch stations.
This is Remote Sprint Launch Site-3, also called RSL-3. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2018, it is the third of four such sites constructed as part of the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex. Another site was also established in Cavalier County, and two others were in Ramsey and Walsh Counties.
The site was established during the Cold War to defend North Dakota’s Minutemen Missile sites. It was located at Nekoma, and a pyramid tower still stands there today.
The Remote Sprint Launch sites were meant to be smaller than the Minutemen sites. They needed less attention and could be operated remotely. Construction contracts were awarded for all four RSL sites in 1971. They were designed very similarly; the only differences were how many launch stations each had and the length of the tunnels to the reinforced buildings that housed launch operations.
Interestingly, efforts to build the Mickelsen complex were not exactly secret. In 1972, the Mayor of Nekoma wrote a letter to the newspaper that since construction had begun in April of 1970, “virtually every citizen in the area” had been directly affected. He continued: “Most of have felt it in the higher prices and wages now paid for goods and services; others feel it in the overcrowded or overloaded educational facilities, utilities, and roads; property owners find it in the high assessments placed to them for street or utility installations and repairs.”
And in December 1973, the Hillsboro Banner published a notice that Major Wayne Wiken of El Paso, Texas and a group of men from Ft. Bliss, were touring the complex site. Wiken’s mother, from Minnesota, and two other guests traveled out to meet them at the base in Nekoma and stayed as his guests at dinner that evening.
Today, visitors interested in the history of the Cold War can visit multiple sites across North Dakota, including the RSL-3 site.
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker
- Towner County Record Herald, October 5, 1972, p9
- Hillsboro Banner, December 6, 1973, p10
- National Historic Register Form / RSL-3