CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. -- Camp Ripley sits along 18 miles of undeveloped Mississippi River shoreline in central Minnesota. As the Minnesota Army National Guard's primary training site, it encompasses more than 300 prehistoric and historic sites on its 53,000 acres. With it comes great responsibility for the Camp Ripley Cultural Resources Management team.

"The support of cultural preservation from Camp Ripley and the Minnesota Army National Guard continues to be a solid asset to our unique installation and encourages everyone who uses that facility to practice positive environmental stewardship all year," said Patrick Neumann, cultural resource manager on Camp Ripley.

The Minnesota Army National Guard's efforts to bring preservation of the past into the 21st century at Camp Ripley earned them the 2017 Secretary of the Army Environmental Award for the cultural resources management team category.

From archaic sites along the Mississippi to the remains of former frontier cavalry fort, Camp Ripley is home to several WPA-era buildings, the historic Camp Ripley Wall (co-owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation), and the Minnesota governor's lodge, known as Valhalla. It is also home to military trainees -- each year Camp Ripley supports 360,000 military and civilian personnel each year.

Camp Ripley's CRM team has achieved many milestones in recent years, thanks in part to its collaboration with local and state partners: State Historic Preservation Office, the Minnesota state archaeologist, 11 federally-recognized tribes, several interested party tribes, Minnesota Department of Transportation, and local history clubs and historical societies. By taking advantage of resources, expertise, and support of the greater preservation community, Camp Ripley remains fully compliant with all CRM laws.

Guided by Minnesota's Integrated Cultural Resources Management Plan, all activities on Camp Ripley reflect the Minnesota Army National Guard's role in the state, its training goals, and expanding knowledge about the post's cultural wealth. In-house resource management enhances the Minnesota Army National Guard's expertise while significantly saving resources and funding.

The new, dedicated internship with St. Cloud State University is one of the CRM team's cost-effective strategies. SCSU graduate students provide talent and labor at no cost to the installation while earning credit and experience.

Another cost-effective strategy is embedding survey efforts within maneuver area construction. By looking ahead and proposing long-range timelines, the CRM team can address potential environmental conflicts before ground is ever broken.

Over a two-year period, Camp Ripley's CRM team, with the Leech Lake Band Heritage Sites surveying tribal monitoring, as well as other survey contractors, assessed every acre and methodically recorded all of the sites in an installation-wide archaeological survey.

Camp Ripley contains the largest stretch of undeveloped Mississippi river shoreline in the nation that was the site of countless prehistoric settlements. The inventory of the land identified areas that needed additional investigation or could be cleared for training or construction projects.

The survey also cleared most of the 300 acres originally set aside in 1986 for high probability of archeological sites for training access. The CRM team worked closely with Minnesota State Historic Society to excavate and curate any artifacts.

Data from the survey was incorporated into the digitized CRM library, allowing all material to be accessible via a geographical information system (GIS) interface. This streamlined Section 106 processes and paved the way for virtual automation, minimizing any potential impact on the nearly 70 archaeological sites and simplifying the process of reporting any inadvertent discoveries at Camp Ripley.

Camp Ripley's CRM team recently completed rehabilitation of Valhalla, one of the primary historical structures on the installation. Working with the SHPO to restore the exterior aesthetics to the original 1934 appearance, they also modernized the interior HVAC and electrical system for energy efficiency.

Camp Ripley's approach to the Sentinel Landscape initiative differs from other installations. While others emphasize the natural resources side of conservation, Camp Ripley explores ways to incorporate cultural resources. For example, the CRM team met with state archeologists to look at possibilities for easements related to cultural sites and reached out to consulting tribes and local interest groups to see how they could be served by CRSL.

"All of our conservation programs help us to sustain a connection to the community and environment while allowing our customers to successfully meet their training plan requirements," said Brig. Gen. Lowell Kruse, Assistant Adjutant General - Army, Minnesota National Guard.

Face-to-face interaction, community events, and educational outreach are critical to the Minnesota Army National Guard's efforts. From meeting with the 11 federally-recognized tribes of Minnesota and those with historical interest, to offering educational opportunities in the classroom, or through signage on the campground, Camp Ripley's CRM team prides itself on being engaged with the public.

The CRM team also aims to educate all Minnesota Army National Guard Soldiers and staff, specifically teaching those who encounter cultural resources in training or construction work about their responsibilities with regard to resource protection and preservation.