By Bill Godby
Environmental Stewardship Branch Archaeologist
Although it is the birthplace of America’s missile and space activity, and one of the nation’s most important Cold War era facilities, the historical magnitude of White Sands Missile Range may not be widely known. Documenting and managing that history resulted in the installation’s Cultural Resource Management Program winning top honors for cultural resource management in the Secretary of the Army Environmental Awards Competition.
WSMR was also selected as the runner-up in the category for Natural Resources Management Team.
“WSMR is a great place to work with such incredible natural resources to sustain the mission, we are all proud to have contributed to programs and projects highlighted in the award,” said Junior D. Kerns, chief Environmental Stewardship Branch. “In some ways, this nomination is kind of sad. Already, one of our team members has retired, Stan Berryman, last August, and two more of us are retiring at the end of March, David Anderson and myself. But hopefully the next team of conservation professionals will do even more for the installation.”
The Cultural Resource Management Program, consisting of Jim Bowman, Bill Godby, and Stan Berryman, since retired, manages 8,300 recorded archaeological sites, several thousand facilities and structures, a historic main post district, and two National Historic Landmarks: Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was tested, and the V-2 Launch Complex 33.
The Range is the largest overland test facility in the U.S. and includes structures, facilities and archaeological sites over much of its 2.2 million acres. At the height of the Cold War it was the most instrumented range in the world, with state-of-the-art tracking telescopes, cinetheodolites, photographic instruments that collect trajectory data, radars and telemetry equipment. With technological changes, many of these sites became obsolete and unused. In support of the Army’s Facilities Reduction Program, more than 175 facilities were inventoried and evaluated for their historic significance.
In further survey efforts, supporting the Network Integration Evaluation test and future operational testing, the team implemented and completed the inventory of 92,000 acres of land for historic properties. The project resulted in protection of 150 National Register eligible archaeological sites, in addition to opening up maneuver area.
The team also completed the inventory and evaluation of the Green River Test Site in Utah, an off-range facility that supported the Advanced Ballistic Re-entry System test program and Pershing test firing in the 1960s and 70s. The installation facilities are targeted for demolition. In consultation with the Utah Division of State History, Green River Test Site was determined a National Register of Historic Places eligible Military Landscape.
To offset the loss of this resource, and to preserve its history for the community, the team is developing an interactive project for the Green River community to use for educational purposes, restoring a scale model of the Athena missile in a local park, and developing new interpretive signage.
The team also developed a project to digitize historic base newspapers that have been stored in the White Sands Public Affairs Office, making them accessible on the Internet. Digitized from 1950 to 1990 The Wind and Sand newspaper, becoming the Missile Ranger in 1969, is online searchable and downloadable, and is viewable in a “flip version”, simulating a printed newspaper.
Moving way back in White Sands’ history, the cultural resources staff contracted a multidisciplinary team to document trackways of Pleistocene mammals through archaeological and paleontological surveys.
Although limited artifacts were found, a juvenile mastodon fossil was discovered, representing the first finding of a mastodon in the Tularosa basin. The study provides insights into changes in the paleo-climate and paleo-hydrology of the area and helps identify high-probability areas for late Pleistocene-age archaeological sites.
The staff also established partnerships with several educational institutions. The School of Engineering from the University of Vermont provided condition assessments and treatment recommendations on 13 historic ranches as part of a plan to stabilize and preserve the existing intact historic ranches on the Range.
Additional partnerships were established with the New Mexico State University’s Public History and Anthropology Programs. Opportunities have been provided for Public History student interns to assist in the creation of a digital archive housing thousands of archival documents. Partnerships with the Anthropology Program have resulted in the first ever archaeological field school conducted at White Sands Missile Range.
The Native American Coordinator and natural resources staff teamed up with the Mescalero Apache tribe to identify and collect plants with traditional uses, resulting in a brochure published to teach Mescalero youth about traditional Apache culture. The team also partnered with the Tortugas Pueblo to collect Yucca stalks for a religious ceremony, known as the Our Lady of Guadalupe Festival.
The White Sands Missile Range cultural resources program has sought innovative and cost effective to identify, protect and preserve their tremendous cultural resource. These efforts gained them recognition in the Secretary of the Army Environmental Awards and will represent the Army in the Secretary of Defense Environmental Awards program later this year.