By Rita Hess, USAEC ContractorMarch 30, 2018
Fort Wainwright is comprised of 1.6 million diverse and beautiful acres in Alaska. It includes a U.S. Army cantonment, seven major training areas, and smaller satellite locations. Originally established in 1939 as Ladd Field and designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in 1985, it is now home to more than 15,000 Soldiers, family members, and civilian employees.
Despite shrinking budgets, the Fort Wainwright Cultural Resources Management (CRM) Program has provided successful stewardship of 700 known archaeological sites, plus managed consultation and partnerships with state regulators, neighboring governments, federally recognized tribes, and local stakeholders.
The CRM Program team is small. Five full-time workers, along with seasonal partners, monitor 127 archaeological sites and ensure compliance for 42 historic structures listed (or eligible) for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Their responsibilities include tracking 72 archaeological sites and 530 more sites with eligibility still undetermined.
"Fort Wainwright accomplishes this by working with many others," said Elizabeth A. Cook, USAG Fort Wainwright Cultural Resources manager/Native Liaison. "For example, they collaborate with Range Control staff, installation engineers, the State Historic Preservation Officer, the National Park Service, installation tenants, land management partners, tribes, and military units; and integrate CRM into planning, design, and maintenance to ensure the best outcomes while mitigating costs."
One example is the 2016 Arctic Anvil training exercise, Fort Wainwright's first in more than a decade with nearly 8,000 participants from Air Force, Army, and National Guard forces. The event placed numerous archaeological sites in harm's way, but minimal damage occurred thanks to the CRM educational component. Soldiers received an environmental handbook that contained information about identifying cultural resources and handling inadvertent discovery. Signage at 184 sites prohibited vehicle traffic or digging. Only two sites received minimal damage, requiring nominal mitigation following the six-week exercise. Educating troops was less costly and actually enhanced their training.
Archaeologists at Fort Wainwright survey approximately 10,000 acres annually, finding creative ways to meet demand for training ground. In recent years, for example, University of Alaska Fairbanks excavated in Donnelly Training Area--a site people inhabited intermittently between 12,000 and 2,000 years ago; Colorado State University and Texas A&M University worked at another site using non-Army dollars. Professors and graduate students gain academic research experience, while the Army benefits from valuable scientific data gathered during such projects.
Structures at Fort Wainwright vary from dilapidated homesteads and trespass cabins to NRHP buildings, some of which contribute to the Ladd Field NHL. Program staff works closely with partners to accomplish stewardship of the NHL, especially in light of reduced budgets. For example, recent changes to the landmark's southern boundary will provide flexibility during planning and construction. CRM staff also collaborated with engineering and master planning staff to achieve thoughtful, creative maintenance and restoration on five historic structures. At the new Gray Eagle Unmanned Aircraft System hangar, staff efforts resulted in a contract bid that was sympathetic to the NHL design and heritage.
CRM staff also expanded public outreach in recent years by producing historic monographs, district brochures, and interpretive panels; and then adding print, online, and in-person outlets for placement--resulting in more than 22,000 pieces of educational material distributed. They nurtured the installation's long-standing relationships with six regular consulting tribes and 37 other tribes on an ad hoc basis. Revival of biannual meetings with the six consulting tribes helped renew connections, promote transparency of Army activities, and provide a forum for open communication, particularly about cultural awareness and newly discovered archaeological data.
Fort Wainwright's unique background left behind undeniably valuable historical assets. The Cultural Resources Management Program manages them effectively and creatively beyond legal and ethical requirements. Indeed, team members have educated community members inside and outside the fence, who in turn can recognize and help protect the area's priceless assets.