By Rita Hess (USAEC Contractor)April 4, 2019
As Cultural Resources Manager for Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, Rita McCarty is charged with preserving the installation's rich cultural heritage, without impeding training of the Mississippi Army National Guard (MSARNG).
That is a big job, considering its approximately 132,000 acres is home to significant historical sites. Only the highest level of environmental excellence will do.
With more than 10 years of experience as Cultural Resources Manager and specialties in archaeology, artifact conservation and analysis, cultural resources compliance, and Native American consultation, McCarty is perfect for the challenge. Her 2019 Secretary of the Army environmental award for individual cultural resources management is a testament to her dedication.
"It is important to show the public how we care for cultural resources so appreciation of that heritage continues to resonate throughout the community," said Col. Bobby Ginn, Camp Shelby's post commander. "If we set a great example for adaptive reuse of historic buildings, we can ensure their continued maintenance and preservation."
McCarty has exceeded conventional cultural resources management (CRM) initiatives. Notably, she helped organize Camp Shelby's centennial celebration, a year-long event that began with a fundraiser and culminated in a public festival highlighting the installation's contribution to Mississippi and the nation.
Founded in 1917, the training site contains extensive relics. She made sure the several thousand attendees at the July 2017 anniversary could see photos, documents, and artifacts that tracked Camp Shelby from WWI all the way through the Vietnam War.
McCarty has worked diligently to renovate and reuse historic structures, in some cases as curation facilities for exhibits or CRM operations. Another of her achievements is launching a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey project.
Camp Shelby encompasses approximately 300 archaeological sites eligible or potentially eligible for National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) listing, such as WWI training trenches scattered over roughly 250 acres.
One survey focused on areas associated with a 1917-18 bakery. McCarty also identified 14 cave shelters and tunnels that connect them.
A subsequent GPR investigation focused on a WWI restaurant, pool hall, icehouse, post office, library, and other facilities. The survey data will help expand the understanding and context of these sites.
Beyond Camp Shelby, McCarty initiated a survey effort for 23 armories throughout the state for NRHP status. She is documenting the history of each one and genealogy of units that trained there, including media clippings related to important events. Many may have significance for the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement.
A current project is converting the historic Mississippi Central Railway rail line to an exercise trail using grant funds.
The first phase connects the rebuilt train depot to the MSARNG museum and then will expand the trail around a lake and campground.
One key to McCarty's success is the ability to corral such funds. Her efforts include $6,200 for special cemetery restoration projects. She also worked with Camp Shelby's DPW on the Rails to Trails project, drafting the Memorandum of agreement with the State Historic Preservation Office and providing historic research material for the project proposal. The project provided approximately $28,000 for the rehabilitation of Rails to Trails.
University of Southern Mississippi faculty and students conduct research and internships under her guidance. Internships provide hands-on experience for graduate students and save MSARNG thousands of dollars on fieldwork and administration.
McCarty also encourages cultural awareness for younger students, such as with an archaeology component at a camp for military kids.
After contractors uncovered a WWII trash pit containing hundreds of bottles and cans, newspapers, and other refuse dating to the 1940s, there was simply too much material to recover and curate. Instead, she decided it was a perfect spot to provide 180 campers and 40 counselors with real excavation experience without risk to significant artifacts. The experience was a hit and will continue going forward.
Environmental staff and the GIS coordinator for the MSARNG collaborate with her to create maps and displays. She also works with the U.S. Forest Service and with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) staff to integrate CRM goals, and maintains excellent relationships with tribal representatives. She hosted a tribal consultation workshop at Camp Shelby, bringing six state guards and their associated tribes together.
McCarty consistently finds new ways to educate others and boost interaction with the MSARNG. She reaches out through social media, sharing photos, videos, and historic trivia with an ever-growing audience. Additionally, she hosts school groups, preservation groups, and scout troops for tours and presentations.
McCarty has received the civilian meritorious service award recently, the highest honor awarded to a civilian employee of the MS National Guard. Clearly, under her leadership, Camp Shelby's history will continue to be discovered, preserved, and celebrated.