The derelict buildings of an abandoned military installation in Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove are being occupied once again.
But instead of housing radar operators and airmen, the concrete structures at the Red Cliff Air Station have been hosting graffiti artists, campers and paintball players.
The buildings — some being swallowed up by surrounding vegetation — have been used as free walls by graffiti artists for several years.
Visible dates go back to 2009, but the practice of painting over previous work that is starting to fade and works by competing groups of painters make it difficult to determine the first use of the site for large graffiti pieces.
Graffiti art, along with some rushed tags, covers the inside walls of each building. One has even earned the label “The Art Gallery.” The name is painted beside the main entrance.
Other buildings have been renamed by their users since the 1960s. A former radar tower building is now the “Fish Bowl.”
The structures were built in 1951-’52 by the American military. They are about eight kilometres northeast of where the American air base at Fort Pepperrell was located.
According to remembrances of troops stationed at Red Cliff Air Station at the time, as well as unofficial historic sites such as Kevin Elliott’s “Unofficial Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove Website,” the station had 246 employees — 140 military personnel and 106 civilians — when it initially shut down in October 1961.
Today, an empty Red Bull can or stencil art of Paul Reubens in his PeeWee Herman bowtie are more likely to be found at the radar station than any type of surveillance equipment.
Outside the nearest concrete building, there’s a hand-painted sign: “Paintball.”
A paintball gun is firing.
At least five guys are playing the game around the “Fish Bowl” on this Wednesday morning. Brothers Mark and Luke Noftall are two of them.
The group is digging protective goggles from backpacks, loading ammunition and checking their weapons prior to the start of their game. They are all wearing dark clothing, with camouflage and bandanas mixed in.
Asked why they’re there, they say it’s a good place to play, with low cost, good layout and not a lot of people.
“We don’t bug people at their houses and stuff. Like, we can’t play this in our backyard,” Luke says.
Loading his gun with paintballs, Mark agrees.
“No, you can’t play in the city. So we’re out of the range of normal people — we don’t have to be bugging other people,” he says.
“You can play at Frontline, but they charge. So instead of having to worry about paying extra fees, we can play ourselves up here. … It’s just a bit of fun.”
Meanwhile, inside the next building over, a tent is pitched. Outside the building, set inside a circle of rocks, there are the charred remnants of a campfire.
“Building” is a generous description, considering that much of the roof has caved in and the day’s RDF has ominously made its way inside as well.
No one is seen around the campsite inside the building mid-morning.
Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove Mayor John Kennedy told The Telegram the town hasn’t had any complaints about the use of the site, as far as he’s aware. He wasn’t surprised to hear people have been using the space.
“Since the East Coast Trail went through there, the amount of people that go through has been increasing,” he said.
“I’d like nothing better than to see it all cleaned up.”
A cleanup would be no small task considering the size of the concrete structures.
“If it’s going to be cleaned up, it’s going to be done by the provincial or federal government,” he said.
Exactly who owns the property is unclear.
A portion of the area, about 1.2 hectares, is federally owned and under the control of Transport Canada. Yet according to a federal file on the property, that land doesn’t include the derelict buildings.
“In all honesty, we’re not really sure who owns what there,” Kennedy said.
Steve Joy, office manager with the East Coast Trail Association, said he was aware of the history of the site, but could not say with certainty who is responsible for it. The East Coast Trail Association is not.
On April 30, 2003, the Red Cliff radar site was mentioned during a Government Services committee meeting at the House of Assembly. The meeting was to discuss budget estimates for the Department of Environment (now Environment and Conservation).
Then-MHA for Cape St. Francis, Jack Byrne, asked what was being done with the site.
“Particularly in Red Cliff, we haven’t done much from the Department of Environment’s perspective,” said then-assistant deputy minister, Ken Dominie.
“We tried to get a handle last year on the land ownership up there, because there is a myriad of land ownership, some provincial, some federal and some that has been passed over to people like the Newfoundland telephone company. There is a variety of land ownership up there and it is very difficult to say to one person, one group or one government that they should take responsibility for that site.
“Essentially, I am not aware of any action being taken up on that site.”
Byrne pressed the matter, saying the property should be cleaned up.
“There is a combination of responsibilities, I suppose, but it is something that I think should be looked at and is going to have to be looked at eventually,” he said.
Dominie said determining who was responsible for what would be the first step.
The Telegram contacted Environment and Conservation to see if any progress had been made. A spokeswoman for the department said the property is split between federal, provincial and private ownership, with the Department of Transportation and Works responsible for the provincial portion. Who owns the buildings remained, despite best efforts, unclarified as of press time.