Review of WVMA Ordnance Removal Action Completed
Dolly Sods is located between Canaan Valley and Seneca Rocks within the Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia. High upon the Allegheny Plateau, with elevations ranging from 2,600 to 4,100 feet, the region of more than 18,500 acres is well known for its extensive rocky plains, upland bogs and sweeping vistas. The remoteness, natural experience, and limited human influences attract adventurous hikers, mountain bikers, anglers, hunters and berry pickers to the region. During 1943 and 1944, military maneuver exercises and artillery/mortar practice were conducted in the Dolly Sods region by the U.S. Department of the Army (USDoA), as training for involvement in World War II.
The Dolly Sods region was a part of the former West Virginia Maneuver Area (WVMA). It is documented based upon found unexploded ordnance (UXO), that rounds fired during the military training included 40 mm, 57 mm armor-piercing (AP), and 105 mm and 155 mm high explosive (HE) projectiles, and 60 mm HE, 81 mm HE and smoke round (SR), and 4.2 inch inert, HE, and SR mortars. Reports document that 75 mm artillery and experimental (containing no explosive components) rocket mortar fire also occurred in the region, although no physical evidence (i.e. found UXO) of such activity exists.
Following military maneuvers in the Dolly Sods region, the USDoA conducted ordnance clearances during 1946 and 1953. The exact amount of ordnance which remains in the region is undetermined. However, ordnance related risk is illustrated by one injury caused by UXO detonation during 1951, and a sporadic but continuous discovery of UXO by recreational visitors since the clearances. To address ordnance-related concerns, an ordnance removal action, focused on significant reduction of public risk, was conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) during 1997 and 1998. The USACE Huntington District has project management responsibilities, and project technical support is provided by the Army Engineering Support Center. During the 1997 to 1998 removal action, all designated trails and inventoried campsites were cleared, and the removal/ disposal of 22 live mortars, 19 inert mortars, and 1151.5 pounds of OE-related scrap significantly reduced the quantity of items posing a hazard to the public in the most widely used areas of the region. The removal action was the most feasible alternative based on the influencing factors of cost, environmental impact, and reduction of public risk.
During 2003 and 2004, USACE conducted an ordnance and explosives (OE) recurring review of the Dolly Sods project. The purpose of the review was to ensure that the implemented 1997 to 1998 ordnance removal action continues to minimize explosives safety risks and continues to be protective of human health, safety, and the environment. The review process consisted of the following activities: the notification and involvement of stakeholders, the review of existing and relevant documentation and data, the identification and review of recent and new information, a community survey and public interviews, and an assessment of site conditions. The study process, and its conclusions and recommendations are documented in the recurring review report, which is available in the project public repository (located at the Monongahela National Forest Headquarters in Elkins, WV) or by contacting the USACE Huntington District (1-800-822- 8413).
The 2003 to 2004 review concluded that the 1997 to 1998 ordnance removal action completed in the Dolly Sods region is functioning as intended; it is still protective of human health, safety, and the environment. No UXO or OE-related scrap were identified during the site assessment, nor were any OE concerns due to erosion, storm damage, changes in landuse or recreational use found. Vegetation provides soil stability across most of the region, and site conditions and usage have not changed noticeably since the removal action. Further, mountainous and rugged terrain along with dense vegetation makes human access to many portions of the region that were not cleared for ordnance difficult.
Prior to the 1997 to 1998 removal action in the Dolly Sods region, there were many instances (e.g. an average of ten per year during one ten year period) in which UXO was encountered along designated trails and at inventoried campsites. Since 1998, there have been only seven cases of encountered UXO by recreational visitors. In each case, UXO was found in an area that receives little visitor traffic, nobody was injured, and the U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal conducted disposal after being contacted through established notification and reporting processes. No UXO has been found since 1998 in the highly used areas of Dolly Sods (i.e. along the trails or at the campsites that were cleared for ordnance), and this indicates that the removal action is functioning as intended. Recent incidents have occurred because visitors have wandered away from cleared trails, and because a complete detection and removal of ordnance in the region could not be accomplished due to the environmental damage that would occur, the extremely high estimated cost, and technology limitations. The previous removal action was not expected to negate ordnance-related risk entirely; therefore, continued periodic reviews of the site and the education of individuals who use the region are necessary.
Institutional controls are currently in place for the Dolly Sods project; however, USACE determined through the review that certain controls can be improved, and additional controls can be implemented to increase public awareness and ensure continued safety. Based on the site assessment, signs warning visitors of the potential to encounter ordnance do exist in the region, but they can be placed at additional locations. While certain trail sections are well marked and maintained, many designated trail sections can be marked better, making it easier to remain only in areas that have been cleared for ordnance when hiking. Based on the recurring review findings, USACE is currently implementing several additional programs to ensure that the community is well aware of existing ordnance-related risk in the Dolly Sods region.
Trail Maps Developed for the Dolly Sods Region
Rocky plains, upland bogs and sweeping vistas attract tens of thousands of recreational visitors to the Dolly Sods Region (DSR) of West Virginia annually. The DSR is comprised of three distinct areas: Dolly Sods Wilderness (DSW), Dolly Sods North (DSN), and Dolly Sods Scenic Area (DSSA). The 10,215 acre DSW was created by an act of Congress in 1975 to preserve and protect the area with special opportunities for solitude, recreation and other scientific, educational, scenic and historical values. During 1992 and 1993, 6,168.5 acres located north of the DSW were purchased by the U.S. Forest Service; this area is known as DSN. To the immediate east of DSW and DSN, 2,268 acres along Forest Road 75 have the designation of National Scenic Area; this area is known as DSSA.
Because an accurate DSR trails map is not currently publicly available, and for the purpose of facilitating public use of trails that have been cleared of ordnance, the USACE, with assistance from the U.S. Forest Service, has developed a new trails map for the DSR. The detailed map provides information on topography, trail locations and distances, landmarks, regional boundaries, roads, and UTM NAD83 coordinate values. Nineteen trails which have been cleared for ordnance, and which total 47.9 miles in length, were plotted on the map using differentially corrected global positioning system (GPS) data. Plans are currently underway to begin distributing color copies of the map (free of charge) as part of an educational brochure in the DSR during 2004.
For additional information about the map contact the USACE Huntington District at 1-800-822-8413.
Wally the Woodchuck Aiding the WVMA Public Awareness and Education
The Dolly Sods Region of the former West Virginia Maneuver Area (WVMA) is widely renowned as an outdoor paradise. Up to 76,000 anglers, hikers, hunters, mountain bikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts come to this pristine mountainous area annually to enjoy its solitude, natural beauty, and recreational opportunities. Due to the military exercises conducted in the area by the Army during World War II, there is the potential that visitors could come in contact with unexploded ordnance (UXO) in certain areas of the region which have not been cleared for ordnance. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and other state and federal agencies are committed to informing the public of the events that took place in the Dolly Sods region, and the inherent possible hazards in the region. Careful attention is being taken to ensure that the public is aware of the presence of UXO, but at the same time is not scared to the point that they will not use the land for its intended purposes.
Over the past year USACE’s Huntington District has been conducting an Ordnance and Explosives (OE) Recurring Review study to determine the effectiveness of an implemented ordnance removal project that occurred during 1997-98. The purpose of the 1997-98 removal project was to minimize explosives risks and provide increased protection to human health and the environment. The removal project included clearing 55.79 miles of trails (the trail itself and 20’off center line to each side of the trail) and 178 campsites in the area of UXO. A new public awareness and education campaign had been developed through recent efforts by the project team. This campaign will implement new strategies to inform the public about past activities and possible regional hazards. Some of the new public awareness programs that have been recently initiated include the following:
- Passing out water bottles, key chains, and other merchandise which have key contact and UXO response information on them, to hikers and other visitors in the area.
- Posting UXO warning signs in locations with high visitor traffic, containing a warning, photograph of UXO found in the area, and a phone number to call if UXO is encountered.
o Brochures that contain a map of Dolly Sods Region trails that were cleared of UXO have been created and will soon be made available in local National Forest Service offices, local businesses, Huntington District website, etc.
- Project and UXO notification information has been listed on the Huntington District website. Included in this information are the WVMA Administrative Record, historical information, brochures, maps, and safety procedures.
- The Huntington District publishes an annual newsletter to interested parties to keep them up to date on the latest news and actions taking place in their community.
- Animations and videos, with Wally the Woodchuck, the newly developed project mascot, have been produced and will soon be distributed to teachers to help educate local school children regarding UXO safety and notification.
Public meetings have been and will continue to be held to keep the public informed of project phases and progress. All of the programs are being implemented so citizens will have a better understanding of possible UXO hazards at Dolly Sods. It is the mission of the Dolly Sods Team that every person using this area has the knowledge to recognize, mark, and report a UXO if it is encountered.
Brightly colored signs like the one shown to the left have been placed at 13 Dolly Sods locations that receive high amounts of visitor traffic, including trailheads, informational displays, and the Red Creek campground, for reporting any ordnance-related incidents.
For additional information on ordnance reporting and project- related activities, contact the USACE Huntington District at 1-800-822-8413.
WVMA Project Showcased at USEPA Conference
During 2004 the WVMA team was selected to give a presentation at a national USEPA conference, in order to share advances that the team has made in the area of UXO-related community awareness and education. The presentation demonstrated the importance of effective agency partnering in such projects, provided examples of DSR outreach tools, and promoted an exchange of ideas regarding ways to educate the public about UXO-related risk. The presentation titled “Strategies for Public Awareness and Education Concerning Unexploded Ordnance Risk in the Former WVMA” was presented at the USEPA Community Involvement Conference in Denver, Colorado. The conference was attended by over 500 people representing federal, state, local, and tribal partners, and proved to be an excellent opportunity to share lessons learned regarding public participation, community involvement, partnership building, and outreach and education related to all aspects of environmental protection.