MCAS BEAUFORT, S.C. --
Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort’s cultural resource management team was rewarded for their efforts over 2012 after being awarded the Secretary of the Navy’s Environmental Award for installation cultural resources management.
The announcement of the recipient of the award was made through a naval administrative message released in April, identifying MCAS Beaufort as the most successful Marine Corps installation in the cultural resources field.
"Cultural Resources is defined as protection of historic properties," said John Luce, the former natural and cultural resources manager for the Air Station. "It deals with preservation of the past."
Luce, who has participated in four other Secretary of the Navy Environmental Awards, led multiple engagements dealing with private land owners to conduct studies of potential expansion options at Townsend Bombing Range in Townsend, Ga., completed surveys and history of eight cemeteries aboard the Air Station identifying a total of 386 graves, and assisted in construction efforts as the Air Station prepares for the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter and supporting facilities.
"We still deal with 25 Native American tribes that claim ties to Beaufort," said Luce, a native of Beaufort.
"We have to communicate with them for any ground-disturbing activity."
MCAS Beaufort encompasses almost 7,000 acres that have been occupied for at least 10,000 years. Native Americans were drawn to the area by the bountiful water resources. By the mid-1700s English colonists developed large rice and indigo plantations which were later divided into small areas farmed to produce crops and harvested for lumber.
"We not only protect [archeological sites] but also make sure they are not damaged," said Billy Drawdy, the Natural Resources Environmental Affairs officer for the Air Station. "There are archeological sites on base that are huge, and we have to conduct surveys and protect these sites when construction is taking place."
The award was earned by the MCAS Beaufort team in part due to current efforts toward identifying historical sites more accurately. Archeologists conduct surveys digging and testing to identify and narrow down historical sites throughout the Air Station. These types of tests are also being conducted throughout Townsend Bombing Range to support expansion efforts.
"It might be a huge site covering five acres," said Drawdy, a native of Walterboro. "We’re trying to lay these sites out and put them in a [Geological Information System] format to pinpoint the historical site rather than an area where the site would be."
Aside from the Air Station’s 7,000 acres, current operations are also being conducted to preserve historical sites of Townsend Bombing Range.
"Here on MCAS Beaufort there are about 7,000 acres and about 189 [historical] sites here," said Luce. "At Townsend Bombing Range, which is 5200 acres only 13 sites have been identified."
Of the 189 historical sites on the Air Station, one site, aboard Laurel Bay, is registered to the National Register of Historic Places. The Tabby Ruin Site, an area that contains sections of two tabby walls, contains archeological artifacts which have dated the site to the mid-18th century.
According to the National Park Service, Laurel Bay also contained a colonial mansion that was bombarded by British forces during the British invasion of the Beaufort area circa 1778. Notable owners included Robert Woodward Barnwell and the Barnwell/ Middleton/Bull family which was active in the Revolutionary War.
In Beaufort County there are 69 historic sites in the national registry including various houses in downtown Beaufort as well as the Parris Island Dry dock and Commanding General’s House.
"A lot of the sites are subsurface, we don’t let companies go around and dig on them," said Drawdy.
According to Luce, prior to construction aboard the Air Station in any historical area, NREAO contacts the state historic preservation officer and all the Native American tribes which can become tedious.
A rich foundation in history and culture, and the NREAO’s efforts to protect and preserve that history are what distinguished the Air Station from any other installation in the Marine Corps.
Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort is dedicated to protecting present and future military mission readiness and capabilities through effective and efficient environment management. As part of this policy, the Air Station conserves both natural and cultural resources as vital Marine Corps assets.
"This area of South Carolina is very rich in history," said Luce. "It really is blessed with a lot of archeological history."