Park Protects Earthworks at Risk

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Date: June 21, 2007
Contact: Steven Mccoy, 931 232 5348 ext 0

Dover, Tennessee—In June, park maintenance personnel, including a maintenance worker tree arborist trainee, began removing selected large trees growing from the surface of the FortDonelson earthworks. Park officials are hoping to prevent future damage to these historic structures, which were significantly damaged by a windstorm in 2006.

The Act of March 26, 1928 establishing FortDonelsonNationalMilitaryPark specifically states that the battlefield shall be preserved “with a view of preserving and marking such field for historical and professional military study.” With this in mind, park management began planning a Sustainable Earthworks Management strategy in 2004. Park staff adopted a forest cover management philosophy to best preserve and minimally affect the earthworks and the health of the associated ecological system. The ultimate goals of earthworks management are: 1) to develop a sustainable vegetative cover that requires minimal maintenance or manipulation, and 2) to maintain earthworks without evidence of environmental or human disturbance that would result in erosion or loss of terrain features. Staff utilized a Management Decision Tool, an interactive process that allows the user to explore various tested methodologies for achieving the desired future condition, to determine how to achieve this goal.

The greatest concern with trees on earthworks is the threat of windthrow or tree uprooting, and the associated removal of soil from the earthwork. While there is no magic measurement for the tree size, trees with a diameter at breast height of 12 inches or greater are identified at risk of uprooting and destroying the historic earthworks. Military earthworks are complex and fragile resources that are often the only surviving above ground structural remnants of a battle. The resources are highly authentic to the historic battle and require specialized management within the general principles of battlefield landscape preservation. Project planning included consideration of multiple case studies, alternatives for management and a review of the most specific and recent guidance on earthwork management.

The Guide to Sustainable Earthworks Management was developed by the National Park Service in partnership with the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation as an evaluation, refinement, and expansion of the 1989 Earthworks Landscape Management Manual. Begun in the summer of 1995 with field assessments of earthworks and earthworks management practices in seven parks in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern parks, the Guide includes specific information on managing earthworks under forest cover and in open conditions. Drawing upon the information the NPS has learned since the last exploration, the basis for this new work is a clear management process that considers sustainability to be the foundation for preserving and interpreting these resources.

The Guide describes three major components embodied in the principle of earthwork preservation/protection:

-Perpetuate and/or establish a vegetative cover that stabilizes the soil and protects the earthworks from direct impacts of wind and water erosion;

-Minimize the impact of human activities on the earthworks, whether they result from recreational, interpretive, or actual landscape maintenance and management activities; and,

-Minimize the deleterious action of natural phenomena on the earthworks, e.g., windthrow of trees, burrowing of animals, or invasion of plant species that reduce natural diversity and erosion-controlling cover.

Five trees meeting the criteria for being hazardous to either the public or the earthwork resources have been removed. The park staff will continue with the Sustainable Earthworks Management strategy by planting sustainable grass-dominated cover followed by monitoring and evaluation. The ultimate goal is to achieve our mandate to preserve the battlefield and its resources unimpaired for future generations.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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