By Andrea Stone
Prehistoric rock art, Native American sacred sites, pioneer-era ranches — the lands of Fort Carson and Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site are rich in history.
“Native American tribes, even prehistoric man and animals existed within our fence lines,” said Dan Benford, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security director. “Once upon a time, our training lands were their home. It is our duty and responsibility to protect our history and our heritage. It’s our legal obligation to do that.”
The cultural resources — including rock art and carvings, archaeological sites, historic buildings, roads and trails, sacred sites, artifacts and ruins — are at risk from vandalism, theft and damage during training exercises.
Carving a name and a date on a rock is vandalism and can damage artifacts.
“If you’re on federal or state property, to do so is illegal, including carving your initials on trees,” said Pam Miller, cultural resources manager, Directorate of Public Works, Environmental Division. “Whether it’s scratching your name on a boulder or running into a (ranch) house and taking pieces … it is illegal and there are penalties.”
Under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, knowingly damaging an archaeological resource is a violation punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 and one year in jail for the first offense.
To prevent damage during training exercises, Seibert Stakes are used to identify areas that have been designated as off limits to vehicles. The stakes are light reflective and are spaced 10 meters apart around the area. They mark, not only culturally and historically significant areas, but dangerous locations and underground utilities, as well.
There are also plans to increase the visibility of the stakes, particularly at night.
“It’s working. We just have to make it work better,” Benford said. “We need more robust protective measures around the sites that are at greater risk of being damaged. I know Soldiers want to do the right thing. We just have to set them up for success through better marking and greater awareness.”
Sometimes the damage occurs because people don’t understand the cultural significance of a site. Some of the rock art may date back to prehistoric times, and there have even been dinosaur track discoveries, as well.
“One of the largest dinosaur trackways in North America is on our former training lands at PCMS,” Benford said. “We had so many requests from people wanting to visit the site, the Army transferred (that parcel of) the land back to the U.S. Forest Service in 1991.”
Today, the tracks are in an area known as the Picket Wire Canyon, and the Forest Service is mandated by law to protect and conserve the natural resources in this area.
Although there are more than 2,000 cultural resources at Fort Carson and 6,000 at PCMS, there is still enough space to train without disturbing archaeological sites.
The sites are important to preserve for study and for future generations.
“There’s a lot of research that could unlock the mysteries of the past. We need to continue to study those to better understand our predecessors,” he said. “We want to identify the importance of protecting and preserving, not only for our generation, but the generations to follow, maintaining our credibility so we can continue to use these lands for military training into the next generations.