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.