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Second Friday of the month (third Friday in five-week months) at 6:45 am, 8:45 am and 5:44 pm. Why's That? explores the things in Southwest Michigan – people, places, names – that spark your curiosity. We want to know what makes you wonder when you're out and about.

Why's That: Were WWII military vehicles tested at this Comstock park?

City of Kalamazoo Water Programs Manager Jean Talanda,and question asker Michele Gossman stand in front of a sign welcoming visitors to the Fred McLinden Nature Trails. The sign is blue with black posts. Jean and Michele are both laying a hand on the sign, the ground is peppered with snow. Barren trees and foliage are scattered in the background.
Michael Symonds
Question-asker Michele Gossman and Kalamazoo Water Programs Manager Jean Talanda at the Fred McLinden Nature Trails in Comstock.

Foundations and a ramp stand out on the trails, leading two people to wonder what they were for.

Upon first glance, the Fred McLinden Nature Trails in Comstock appear straightforward. When I walked the eastern-most trail, it was snowy and the trees were bare.

“There's all this natural beauty and then all of a sudden, there's these cement pads,” said question-asker Michele Gossman of Comstock.

The pads are big. You could park about 20 cars on them.

Remnants of concrete foundations jut from the pavement, outlining where two buildings appear to have stood. Moss engulfs much of the area, which is next to a pond.

“I didn't have a clue as to what it might be. But I knew that it must involve water in some way because a lot of the infrastructure goes into this little pond.”  

But this McLinden mystery was too big for just one question-asker. Fellow Comstock resident James Amos met me at the park another day.

Our other question asker, James Amos stands at the McLinden Mystery site. He has a beard and a baseball cap, with a light brown coat, white shirt and dark blue jeans rounding out his outfit. Beyond him lies one of the concrete building foundations that make up this mystery. The foundations sit on a large concrete pad, so large that it expands past the confines of the image. Nature has taken over, moss and foliage engulf much of the area. James is reading a letter, learning more about the history of the site.
Michael Symonds
A letter provided by the Comstock Township Library was able to shed some light on what happened at the mystery site.

“At the ponds, there's some sort of concrete ramp that looks like a boat dock, or a vehicle could be used to drive in and out of it,” Amos said.

Amos said growing up, legend had it that the site was used for testing vehicles used in World War II.

Old letters and articles reveal McLinden Nature Trails does have a military history tied to a company called BorgWarner.

By the 1940s, BorgWarner had a division in Kalamazoo known as Ingersoll. Ingersoll built amphibious vehicles during World War II, nicknamed “Beach-busters.”

Shea McLean is a curator at the U.S.S. Alabama Battleship Memorial Parkin Mobile, Alabama.

McLean said these vehicles were vital in the Pacific Theater.

“I just don’t see how any of these battles could have taken place, they would have been bombardments, but not landings," McLean said. "And landings were necessary to establish airfields, so that planes could then fly forward and bomb the next series of islands and then move the chain forward towards the enemy in Japan.”

McLean says the geography of the Pacific made it impossible to use the Higgins boats deployed in the D-Day landings.

“They simply couldn't have landed on most of these Pacific atolls, they would have hit a coral reef before they got anywhere near the beach and gotten shotten up by the defending Japanese.”

The record is unclear on where Ingersoll tested those vehicles. What is clear is that by the 1950s, it was testing new amphibious vehicles at what is now McLinden Nature Trails, and in the adjacent Campbell Lake.

“They were tasked to design and build amphibious cargo carriers, but they were a new brand, ” said City of Kalamazoo Water Programs Manager Jean Talanda. The city now has a wellfield at McLinden.

Talanda met me and question-asker James Amos at the site. She said one of Ingersoll’s "new brands was" a carrier known as a LARC, for "Lighter, Amphibious Resupply, Cargo."

On YouTube, an Ingersoll newsreel made for the company’s 75th anniversary mentions LARCs.

“The function of this vehicle is to transfer cargo from ship side through the surf zone, unload inland, then return to the ship to repeat the operation," the narrator says.

The ramp near the old foundations allowed easy access to the nearby pond.

But the LARCs weren’t the only vehicles tested on the waters near McLinden.

A large dark green metal vehicle sits on a slab of concrete. The vehicle does not have wheels, but rather tracks. A tread runs the length of the vehicle, with round wheel-like sprockets following it. The vehicle is heavily armored, with no windows and only a few hatches that can be used to enter it. A small chain fence surrounds it, with green and brown grass engulfing the rest of the ground outside of the vehicles concrete pedestal. Other military vehicles can be seen beyond it, the most notably being the U.S.S. Alabama, a Navy Battleship.
Courtesy photo
U.S.S. Alabama Battleship Memorial Park
An LVTP-5 on display at the U.S.S. Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama.

“Newer, faster models of the early tracked amphibians are under continuing development in a program which has already produced such vehicles as the LVTP-5,” the narrator continues.

The LVTP-5 was deployed during the Vietnam War.

“If you’re moving through the jungle in less than ideal terrain, you've got to move 105 millimeter Howitzer or anti-aircraft, weaponry, you know, these are a good way to do it," McLean said.

The Comstock Township Library has a letter written in 1988 by a man named John Imel, recalling his days helping to test the LVTP-5 at McLinden and Campbell Lake. Question-asker James Amos read the letter at the site.

“The residence [sic] on the lake and the fishermen that fish the lake were not very happy with us because we share [sic] messed up their fishing for a few years," the letter reads.

Amos says he was not expecting to find so much information on the park’s history. Gossman was also intrigued by these discoveries.

“Some of these things, the purposes kind of fade with the passage of time," Gossman said. "It's kind of interesting to revisit them and consider what was done, and why these things are here.”

Michael Symonds reports for WMUK through the Report for America national service program.

Report for America national service program corps member Michael Symonds joined WMUK’s staff in 2023. He covers the “rural meets metro” beat, reporting stories that link seemingly disparate parts of Southwest Michigan.