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We Couldn't Get Inside This Octagon In Rural Missouri, But We Found Out What It Is

This half-mile wide octagon inspired a lot of questions from Reddit users and Belton, Missouri residents alike.

This story first appeared on KCUR's Question Quest. You can find the episode here or wherever you download podcasts.

Wild theories around an octagonal shaped piece of property outside of Belton, Missouri have been swimming around on Reddit. Is it a place where a UFO set down? A site for military experiments? Is it art?

To find the answer, I travel to Belton, Missouri and meet up with Rob and Pam Powell. They volunteer with the Belton Historical Society. 

"Do y'all know anything about an octagon?" Pam asks the other volunteers at the front desk of the town's museum. Nobody seems to know about it. And the Powell's don't know anything about it either, but they do provide some history about Belton, which helps lead to the answer.

They say farming and the railroad is why Belton exists.

"Because the track is really just straight through town they made their town not a square but more like a diamond," says Pam Powell. "People love to say that there is no way to find north in town." 

Credit Belton Historical Society
Belton Historical Society
The cover of this centennial celebration book shows how the layout of Belton is like a diamond and also references the role the railroad and Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base played in the town's development.

Basically all the roads are off set to the side, so if you say you're going North on Main St. You're really going northwest. 

The Powells say the town really changed in 1955 when Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base opened.

"Everybody was looking to the sky because there were jets in the air," remembers Rob Powell. He says the base brought in a lot more people to the area and his school nearly doubled in size. He says the base closed in 1994.

The octagon is south a few miles from the town of Belton and it's 10 miles away from where the Richards-Gebaur base had been. But it turns out that it was indeed formerly part of the base.

"Belton was just an old Air Force site for radar or radar communications area that they disposed of and gave to the Army Reserve," says Michael Bryant of the 88th Regional Support Command. He says it was not uncommon for radar sites to be further away from the base.

The octagon is surrounded by private property and a fence. After Richards-Gebaur closed, members of the community petitioned to have the area closed and given to the city, but it was reassigned to be used as a military Local Training Area.

Bryant overseas 14 local training areas, Belton being one of them. He says there are 500 civilian soldiers in the area that use the site for training.

"So practice convoy operations go up there. It's a big flat area, so the units go out and do field training exercises," says Bryant.

He says they're not firing weapons or storing ammunition. They are doing things like helicopter sling load trainings, and simulated trainings on how to deal with IED's. Bryant says they do these trainings so that they'll be prepared.

"If heaven forbid something happened to the KC area, like a terrorist attack. FEMA would come in kind of like the hurricanes that are going on now. Well they'll need a staging area. And if they need support from the Army Reserves those troops are there to help them. And the staging area could be the Belton Local Training Area," he says.

But why is it in the shape of an octagon?

I asked the Air Force Historical Agency, and other defense agencies this question, but I cannot find the answer. 

Bryant says he gets this question a lot too, "So the stop sign. It's what we call it."

He says none of his other training areas are this shape. And he admits, it is unique, but he has never found the answer.

"That's the shape it is, and that's the shape it will stay."

Suzanne Hogan is a reporter, producer and announcer for KCUR 89.3 and co-host of the podcast Question Quest

Every part of the present has been shaped by actions that took place in the past, but too often that context is left out. As a podcast producer for KCUR Studios and host of the podcast A People’s History of Kansas City, I aim to provide context, clarity, empathy and deeper, nuanced perspectives on how the events and people in the past have shaped our community today. In that role, and as an occasional announcer and reporter, I want to entertain, inform, make you think, expose something new and cultivate a deeper shared human connection about how the passage of time affects us all. Reach me at hogansm@kcur.org.
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