We've been working on updating some of this site's very first blogs lately, and the Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail is one I've been meaning to polish up for years. Francis had never been, so last weekend I dragged him and his fancy camera to my favorite museum in Missouri. I think it was RoadsideAmerica.com who came up with the name Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail, and that has always been my favorite name for the site. You have to see it to believe it!
The proper name for this place is the Weldon Spring Site Remedial Action Project (WSSRAP). In the 40s, the site was used to manufacture explosives. In the 50s, it was used to process uranium ore ("yellow cake") and a nearby quarry was used to dispose of radioactive waste. In the 60s, the military considered using the site to make Agent Orange, but never got past some initial cleanup efforts, and no Agent Orange was actually produced here. In the 70s the army used the site for military training. In the 80s the Department of Energy took over and started the cleanup process, and cleanup continued through the 90s. By 2001, the toxic stew was piled up and buried under what I like to call a Post-Apocalyptic Cahokia Mound and then a museum was built to tell us all about radiation and 21st century mound building.
This time around, we spent some time getting a tour from Karl & Shirley Daubel, the couple who run the museum on the weekends. Karl used to work on site, and they know everything there is to know about the history, clean up, and construction of the cell. There have been some comments on this post over the years from concerned residents of the area, and I encourage you to stop by the museum some weekend to learn more about it.
While it is true that you probably should not have gone swimming in the lagoon back in the 60s and 70s, today it is totally safe. Even during the cleanup process, every possible effort was made to ensure not one radioactive particle left the site. The workers even had to put their hazmat suits in a barrel that was then put into the cell before it was closed up!
Today, the answer to the question, "How much radiation am I receiving at the WSSRAP?" is, "Not much." Less than your average day-to-day activities, presumably because they did such a good job of mound building. I always like to tell people that you get more "radiated" by sleeping in the same bed as another person. Now that we're confident on that point, let's check out the mound.
You might think this is just a mound, that you can maybe walk around it at the bottom and that's it. But just like the Big Mound at Cahokia, there are stairs up to a viewing platform. It's like being in a sci-fi movie up at the top.
This giant pile of rocks is the highest point in St Charles County, and totally surrounded by Weldon Spring Conservation Area and Busch Wildlife Area. Green all around. So crazy.
The next picture is Keith in 2008, to give you a sense of the scale of the viewing platform. Those concrete podiums have maps and information about the site, in case you are ever out there when the visitor's center is not open.
Once upon a time I heard that there was an actual trail with interpretive signage, hence the name Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail, but further research seems to indicate that someone misinterpreted the visitors center/museum. You can walk around the cell, and they have some native prarie planted, but there's no "Adventure Trail", per say. Still, much like Caveman BBQ, the name sticks.
We don't know what the big gravel fields are for. Shirley's theory is that they might be testing areas, as the site is still constantly monitored.
I am happy to add to this update that the Google Maps have finally been corrected! The address of the site is 7295 Highway 94 South, St. Charles, Missouri 63304. For cyclists, the WSSRAP is on the Hamburg Trail, which intersects the Katy Trail at mile 56.7 just west of the Weldon Spring Trailhead. The Interpretive Center is about 4 miles from the Katy Trail on the Hamburg Trail.