Many of you may have spent a sun-splashed day roaming the 18.3-acre grounds of Nike Missile Park in Gaithersburg near Snouffer School Road. However, this site was not always the lovely green space that we see today – and the “Nike” is not referring to the Swoosh we’re all familiar with. Project Nike was an anti-aircraft missile initiative that traces its roots back to 1944, when the U.S. Department of War (now the Department of Defense) tasked its scientists and engineers to develop a widespread anti-aircraft missile system. During the Cold War, tensions were at a fever pitch, and the U.S. military sought to ensure that the nation was protected in the event of an attack.
Previously known as Site W-94 in the Washington-Baltimore Defense Area (BA, W), the Gaithersburg site was one of several Nike facilities across the capital region equipped with anti-aircraft infrastructure for use in the case of airborne attacks. The site was equipped with the Nike Ajax (MIM-3) missile systems, which were the main foundation of the Nike program until the mid-1960s. Once the technology advanced past the Ajax’s point, the Gaithersburg Nike Missile site was deactivated and demolished, with the core site being transferred to the National Park Service and the surrounding areas developed into residential lots. In 1997, the National Park Service then transferred the site to the Maryland-National Capital Park Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), at which point we gained the Nike Missile Park that we know today.