Bob Smith, community support flight chief for Misawa Air Base's 35th Services Squadron, stands next to a poster board of photos showing the different recreational sections planned for the Weasel's Den.

Bob Smith, community support flight chief for Misawa Air Base's 35th Services Squadron, stands next to a poster board of photos showing the different recreational sections planned for the Weasel's Den. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — If you’re not an outdoor winter sports enthusiast, it’s easy to go stir crazy at this northern Japan base when the snow settles and the temperature drops.

Base officials hope to change that.

Hangar 973, once used for storage, is being transformed into a 65,000-square-foot indoor play area for children, adults and families. The Weasel’s Den should open by the end of October, said Bob Smith, 35th Services Squadron community support flight chief.

“We’re trying to combat cabin fever,” Smith said. “This is for everybody, little kids all the way up to adults.”

Recreational options planned include nine-hole miniature golf, video games, a skateboard park, inline skating, a climbing wall, electric Go Karts, a “fun zone” with giant inflatable games and an $85,000 playground set.

Brig. Gen. Dana Atkins said he threw his support behind the $1.7 million project soon after he took command of the base and 35th Fighter Wing.

“When I got here almost two years ago, there was an outcry for some other recreational activities here at Misawa,” he said. “Because we’re so north in latitude, four to five months out of the year we’re pretty much stuck to outdoor winter sports activities or in the house.”

Master Sgt. L.D. Moore, 35th Mission Support Squadron, said few families ski at Misawa. “A lot of people here are just stuck on the installation” in the winter, he said.

Moore’s winter hobby is working out in the gym, but he said he’d take his three daughters to the indoor recreation center in a heartbeat.

“If it’s set up they way they say it’s going to be, I think it’s going to be great,” he said. “I think it will be a benefit for the whole community.”

Atkins said the Weasel’s Den will try to be a “one size fits all” — a recreational spot for a range of ages and interests.

Adolescents in particular seem to have fewer winter recreational outlets, he said.

“Even though we have a youth center, if you’re 13 to about 17 years old, going to the youth center is not real cool,” Atkins said. “Our kids were kind of migrating to other venues on their own, some of them not so healthy, and so it seemed imperative to me and others here to see if we can develop another venue.”

Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Welter said Misawa needs more indoor recreation opportunities.

“I’m from California, so I’m not used to this weather,” he said. “If I can be indoors, it will be better for me. It gives me something else to do besides go drinking.”

Plans now call for the Weasel’s Den to be open year-round, seven days a week, with limited hours on holidays. Outdoor Recreation will move its offices and equipment rentals into the building and its employees will staff the center, Smith said. There will be no admission charge, but it’s anticipated patrons will have to pay a user fee for miniature golf and Go Kart rental, officials said. Hot food won’t be sold, but vending machines will be installed.

Construction is expected to start on the World War II-era hangar in April; the building should be turned over to Outdoor Recreation Services in July, said Capt. Chuck Davis, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron chief of engineering.

Before it begins setting up the center’s interior, the bathrooms need to be renovated, more energy-efficient lights installed and entrance and exit ways built to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, Davis said.

The Army Corps of Engineers is designing the facility and will hire local contractors for the construction, Davis said.

The wing already has allotted funding for renovations; money from Pacific Air Forces for quality of life projects has paid for much of the equipment, such as the inflatable devices and skateboard park ramps, which already sit in boxes in the hangar.

Fun, fun, fun ...

The Weasel’s Den indoor recreation center will include:

¶ Go Karts: The base plans to buy 10 regular Go Karts and four double-seaters, the latter an option for a parent and child. The cars can go up to 30 mph on a 20,000-square-foot track.

¶ Inline skate park: Goals and netting will be set up for hockey games; hours will be designated for family skating, also.

¶ Rock climbing: A 10-foot climbing wall will be set at a 10-degree angle with a padded zone to cushion falls.¶ Fun Zone:[/BOLDFACE] Large inflatable devices will be switched out, including a carnival set-up, a giant game of Twister, a haunted house, a bungee run, boxing with big, soft gloves and wrestling with inflatable sumo suits.

¶ Video games: Three widescreen TVs, tables, chairs and vending machines will be on a mezzanine, where patrons can check out and play Nintendo or Xbox games and parents can watch younger children in the nearby kids’ play areas.

— Jennifer H. Svan

author picture
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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