More than 30-plus years of archaeology work on the nearly 60,000 acres of public land at Fort McCoy has helped build a picture of the installation's recent and distant past.
The work reflects some of the core reasons many Americans celebrate National Public Lands Day every September. According to the National Environmental Education Foundation, the day is celebrated annually at public lands across the United States on the fourth Saturday of September. The day promotes both popular enjoyment and conservation of public lands.
"Over those past 30(-plus) years, archaeologists working at Fort McCoy recovered a rich cultural tapestry covering more than 10,000 years of human occupation in the Fort McCoy area," said Alexander Woods, Ph.D., an archaeologist with Colorado State University's Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands under contract with Fort McCoy.
"The archaeologists examined ancient quarries where the first people to enter the state mined stone for their weapons and tools, documented the homes and farmsteads of pioneer families, and rediscovered the remains of the very first infantry maneuvers from Camp Emory Upton in 1909-10."
According to history, Fort McCoy was first called the Sparta Maneuver Tract when it opened in 1909. It was divided into a maneuver camp named Camp Emory Upton and an artillery camp known as Camp Robinson. The installation wasn't very large when it opened, but by World War II, it grew to the size it is today.
Through archaeology, the work benefits both the installation and researchers, said Fort McCoy Archaeologist Kira Kaufmann with the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch (NRB).
For example, knowing the locations of sensitive archaeological sites prior to project planning saves the installation time and money. Projects can be approved much more quickly because the archaeological surveys already have been completed.
"We surveyed every safe-to-dig-and-walk inch of Fort McCoy," Woods said. "Fort McCoy has been very proactive in making sure cultural resources are preserved and understood. That's why there was more than three decades of field work."
The decades of archaeology work has generated tens of thousands of artifacts - some of which are displayed at the Fort McCoy History Center, building 902, in the Commemorative Area. Others are cared for by the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
"Archaeological surveys and digs at Fort McCoy have produced ... artifacts, some more than 10,000 years old, that show how the earliest of peoples inhabited the Driftless Area of Wisconsin and more specifically around Fort McCoy," Woods said.
Other artifacts document military history and compared to those that show what the post was like thousands of years ago..
In 2017, the first phase III archaeological dig took place on South Post. A mock cultural training site was added to the site area.
"Mock cultural sites are used as training aids for troops while they protect cultural resources at the same time," Kaufmann said. The site now is set up with mock ruins and internationally recognizable signs noting the area is a cultural site.
In the spirit of National Public Lands Day, which was Sept. 22, the Fort McCoy team will continue to do its part to conserve and care for the installation's public lands, said NRB Chief Mark McCarty. "The installation team has a big job ensuring that land is sustainable and vibrant for future generations," he said.
National Public Lands Day was first launched in 1994. By 2017, participation grew to include thousands of sites across the country, according to the National Environmental Education Foundation.
Learn more about Fort McCoy online at www.mccoy.army.mil, on Facebook by searching "ftmccoy," and on Twitter by searching "usagmccoy."