Balancing act

A one-room schoolhouse sits on the same plot of land that holds Native American burial grounds, shooting ranges and a Burger King. Welcome to Fort Leonard Wood, where historical landmarks meet military training operations.

Home to more than 550 archeological sites, the base presents an unusual juxtaposition of fragile historical landmarks and 21st century military force.

About 12,000 soldiers train at Fort Leonard Wood every year. Unfortunately, sometimes their training exercises — shooting targets and repeatedly digging up huge chunks of land, to name a couple — can damage the historical sites.

When a training exercise might harm or destroy a historical landmark, the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office helps come up with ways to “mitigate” the harmful effects. That basically means the military must find some way to compensate for the damage the exercise will cause.

Sometimes that requires composing detailed drawings of the site. Sometimes it requires burying the site in a way that could allow for its excavation in the future.

Stephanie Nutt, cultural resources program coordinator, describes the conversations as a “back-and-forth.” At the end of the day, though, Fort Leonard Wood serves as a military facility, and when military training activities threaten a historical site, the debate focuses on how the exercise might be modified, not whether it should take place at all.

“We never say ‘You can’t do that,’ and the law doesn’t require us to say that,” Nutt said. 

Edited by Margaux 

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