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October 21, 2018 8:52 am

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Efforts Ongoing To Place Saugatuck's Radar Tower On National Register Of Historic Places


The iconic Mt. Baldhead radar tower—a remnant of the United States government’s response to real and perceived threats during the Cold War period—is on its way to being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the official list of the nation’s historic places meriting preservation.

“Saugatuck and Douglas are so rich with history, but it’s not just lumberjacks and the Big Pavilion; there are so many other significant stories in this community and the radar tower atop Mount Baldhead is just one of them,” Nathaniel Nietering, executive director of the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center, told The Local Observer on Tuesday about the history center efforts.

The Saugatuck City Council gave the history center its unanimous backing during Monday’s meeting, as the city owns the property.

Also, the history center has on hand a preliminary letter of eligibility from the Michigan Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and is now ready to move forward with the full nomination process.

That entails continuing to conduct research on the part of the history center, much of it already completed and part of the documentation that needs to be submitted to the National Register.

Properties listed in the National Register include districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering and culture.

“People plan their vacations around heritage and cultural sites of interest and they look at the National Register for what is listed,” said Nietering about some of the economic and tourist advantages from the endeavor.

“This (tower) is one of a few that exist in the entire country. We think that is significant,” he added.

“The site is significant for its role in the nationwide, Cold War-era Semi-Automatic Ground Environmental (SAGE) air defense system.

SAGE was constructed between the mid-1950s and the late 1960s at the height of the Cold War,” Todd A. Walsh, Interim National Register Coordinator of Michigan’s SHPO, told the history center in the Jan. 22 eligibility letter.

“The SAGE system was a large network of radars, computers, and operation centers that would detect, track and intercept hostile bomber formations.”

Walsh went on to say that one of the radar system’s weaknesses was its gap coverage due to low and high lands as well as natural curvature of the earth.

To address this issue of possibly having enemy aircraft avoid detection and penetrate the protected zone, “gap-filler” radar stations were installed.

Saugatuck’s radar station served as one of 131 such “gap-filler” stations, one of 10 in Michigan and one of four that still exist today.

The Mt. Baldhead radar station was activated in 1958 and deactivated 10 years later in 1968.

Efforts Ongoing To Place Saugatuck’s Radar Tower On National Register Of Historic Places

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