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Three new cabins are available for overnight rental at Misawa Air Base’s beach in northern Japan.

Three new cabins are available for overnight rental at Misawa Air Base’s beach in northern Japan. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Even though Monday brought much needed sunshine to rain-soaked Misawa, not everyone who had the day off played outside.

Terrell Hallmon, 13, and his brother, Xavier, 10, headed to the Weasel’s Den for a game of miniature golf.

Pausing by the giraffe at hole No.2, they said the new course was much more enticing than the previous incarnation.

“It looks like a real mini-golf course,” Terrell said.

Others apparently agree: Since the revamped course opened earlier this summer, the number of golfers has doubled, said Outdoor Recreation Director Dave Hymer. Last week alone, 168 clubs and balls were signed out — compared to an average of about 80 players a week on the old course.

Most of the changes were done in-house, with Outdoor Recreation staff using self-help store and recycled materials to dress up the once-bland nine holes, Hymer said. Safari and jungle animals from the outdoor mini-golf course, which was dismantled due to lack of use, were given a new home inside. And with some concrete, wood, plants, mulch and clever landscaping, the holes in places were pitched and banked and obstacles were added.

“I always had a vision to make it more challenging, not only for children but for adults as well,” Hymer said. “A lot of adults are playing with their kids now.”

The course is about 90 percent done. Games cost $1 apiece — or free for a hole-in-one on the ninth hole.

Another recent addition to the Weasel’s Den is the indoor batting cages, one for slow-pitch softball and one for fast-pitch hardball. The batting cages opened about a week and a half ago — they were extras from the outdoor batting cage area, which also is going to be dismantled, Hymer said. “It fell into disrepair” during harsh winters that were hard on machine parts and nets, he said.

Batters must be at least 7 to use the cages — with parent supervision — since that’s the age in the base youth league that kids start fielding pitches, Hymer said. The cost is 16 balls for $1. Bats and helmets are available at the Weasel’s Den.

The revamped mini golf and the batting cages are just the latest enhancements to the Weasel’s Den: Since opening in March 2005, the facility has continually evolved into what base officials tout as the best indoor recreation facility in the Air Force.

“It was a work in progress,” Hymer said. “That was always the intent. We wanted to get it open for the community. This is an alternative for the folks who tend to get bored in the winter or during the long rainy season.”

Those who haven’t ventured into the Weasel’s Den lately will find a spiced-up rental counter and retail store with a display that features a miniature mountain and small pond with fish. The retail store has expanded, now offering, among other new items, mountain bikes from a local vendor and firewood and ice for campers.

For younger clientele, the kiddie train that dings through parking lots during base festivities will be doing the same at the Weasel’s Den. Rides will cost $1, and a schedule soon will be posted in the Weasel’s Den.

Also, Hymer said, the Bouncy Castle now is divided in half: One side for kids 5 and under, the other for ages 6 to 10.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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