The former Fort Custer was established in 1917 for the induction and training of military personnel during World War (WW) I, WWII, and for a short time during the Korean War. At the height of its use, Fort Custer comprised approximately 14,142 acres. During wartime Fort Custer operated as an induction and training facility for trainees from Michigan and Wisconsin. Between wars, the area was used as a training facility for the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps, Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Citizen’s Military Training Corps. Fort Custer was declared inactive in 1953 and acreage was leased as livestock grazing areas. The Army’s use of the area officially ended in June of 1968. The Hand Grenade Court, Ranged Complex No. 1 (Eastern Part), Burial Area, and Bombing Targets Munitions Response Sites are currently under investigation for characterization of the nature and extent of munitions and explosives of concern, and any associated munitions constituents.
The Hand Grenade Court MRS is approximately 25 acres located east of Eagle Lake and west of the active National Guard training area. The exact dates of operation are unknown; however, the range is shown on a 1954 map. Structures are visible in the area on a 1946 aerial photograph and ground scarring in the locations of these buildings was observed on a historical aerial photograph from 1955. The estimated dates of use are from 1940 to 1971.
The Range Complex No. 1 MRS is composed of five sub-ranges encompassing 815 acres (757 terrestrial acres and 58 water acres). The Eastern part is being investigated under this project and is composed of 652 acres located east of the active National Guard training area in the vicinity of Harts Lake. The five overlapping ranges include a .50 caliber anti-aircraft range, shotgun range, sub-machine gun range, rocket launcher range, and an infiltration course. These areas were in use from 1954 to 1971 for fire arm training and combat simulation.
The Burial Area MRS, located within Eagle Lake, was used between 1949 and 1953 for the burial or disposal of munitions. Items believed to have been disposed of here include small arms ammunitions, mortars, rockets, and associated detonators, fuzes, booster, and bursters. Although analysis of 1946 and 1961 aerial photographs did not identify any disposal areas or evidence of burial activities, large pieces of white phosphorous, stokes mortars, and a 5-inch rocket have been recovered from the area. The items would have been intentionally dumped in the area.
The Bombing Targets MRS consists of a circular target approximately 1.5 miles in diameter, an adjacent target shaped like a ship, and a suspected grenade burn pit within 544 acres in the undeveloped western portion of the Fort Custer Recreation Area. The time period these areas were actively used is unknown.
Fort Custer VA Post Cemetery Dump Site
The Fort Custer VA Post Cemetery Dump Site is part of the former Fort Custer, a Formerly Used Defense Site, with a property number of E05MI0006. The U.S. Army established Fort Custer as a military reservation/training base in 1917, near Battle Creek, Michigan. The site is part of the current Fort Custer National Cemetery and consists of approximately 10.5 acres of forest and wetland that lie mostly within the circular Fort Custer Drive (Figure 1). Gravesites at the cemetery are located outside of the dump area. The future use of the property is anticipated to remain a cemetery. The future use of the site is anticipated to remain an undisturbed green area.
Historical aerial photographs taken between 1938 and 1974 show the site area was disturbed, and the wetland footprint shrunk over time. Based on interviews with former employees, Fort Custer used the wetland and basin as a dump to dispose of refuse, including barrels and garbage from the mess halls.
Two incinerators existed at Fort Custer based on review of sanitary sewer and water utility maps from 1950. Most material observed in the dump area (slag, cinders, ashes, debris and melted glass/bottles) during clearing, trenching and drilling activities indicate that a large portion of the wastes were incinerated before disposal.
According to the available information, it appears that the dumping activities began in the early to mid-1940s and continued even after Fort Custer was declared inactive in 1953, through 1967. The Army’s use of Fort Custer officially ended June 14, 1968, when the state of Michigan (Department of Military) and VA took over operation of the property. The dump area was abandoned and overgrown with vegetation after the fort was shut down in 1968. Observations from field activities at the site indicate that smaller/ isolated, more-recent dumping activities on top of older wastes (paper trash, tire and plastic bottles) have occurred by unknown parties after 1968 but appear to be minor.