CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A new state park at a former launch command site for one of the world’s most powerful nuclear missiles remains on track to open in Wyoming as soon as next year, though state officials said Monday they are still figuring out how to pay for staffing and maintenance.
A legislative committee voted 11-1 Monday to sponsor a bill that would give the Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources leeway to set entrance fees to keep the former Peacekeeper missile site park self-sustaining amid a tight state budget.
One legislator was wary of letting the department deviate from policy by spending entrance fee revenue on salaries and operations.
“To me, it’s an open-ended deal. We don’t even know how much you might charge,” said Sen. Glenn Moniz, R-Laramie, who nonetheless voted for the bill for introduction in this winter’s legislative session focused on the state budget.
The U.S. Air Force has been renovating the Quebec-1 site — the last of its kind since the deactivation of the Peacekeeper missile in 2005. A defense spending bill making its way through Congress could transfer the site to Wyoming in early 2018.
“It really tells the story of Wyoming and the role that we played in our national security,” said Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas.
Starting in the mid-1980s, F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne oversaw 50 Peacekeeper missiles, each of which carried as many as 10 nuclear warheads.
At the Quebec-1 site off Interstate 25 about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Cheyenne, a building resembling an ordinary ranch house provides access to an elevator leading to a missile alert facility. Behind an 8-ton blast door 70 feet underground, pairs of airmen called missileers worked 24-hour shifts, ready to launch Peacekeeper missiles from silos in the ground miles away.
Tourists will be able to go underground to the steel-reinforced concrete capsule.
State revenue is down because of weak returns from coal, oil and natural gas extraction. But Wyoming officials are hopeful the underground missile command center 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Cheyenne could be a significant tourist attraction.
The site could draw 50,000 to 60,000 visitors a year, requiring one full-time employee and two seasonal workers besides volunteers, department administrator Domenic Bravo told the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee.
The department will request funding in the upcoming 2019-2020 biennial budget to operate the park for the first year. After that, it would set entrance fees based on how many people show up.
“Our goal is to set the fee at a reasonable price,” Bravo told the committee. “We really try to set fees across the spectrum based upon what the market will be likely to bear.”
The site could cost around $375,000 a year: $200,000 for employees and $150,000 to $200,000 for maintenance and other operations costs, he said.
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