Heritage/Natural Resource Services Preserve the Past, Prepare the Future

From Civil War battlefields to flood-prone roadways, WSP USA is fostering a better understanding of the history and environment of important sites and structures.

On Aug. 30, 1862, the Union Army began a bold but unsuccessful assault on Confederate troops in Manassas, Virginia—the Second Battle of Bull Run.

As Union troops climbed a long slope to mount their attack, Confederate soldiers awaited them at the top of the hill, concealed in an abandoned railroad cut and in a steeper, rocky area with shallow ravines that provided additional cover.

Today, more than 150 years after that infamous Civil War battle, WSP USA archaeologists using metal detectors unearthed hundreds of unfired bullets at that site … a discovery that is helping historians fill in key details about what transpired on the battlefield.

“Civil War soldiers dropped bullets when loading their guns under fire, so any position where soldiers stood or lay during a firefight ended up strewn with unfired bullets,” said John Bedell, principal archaeologist at WSP. “In this spot, we found far more dropped bullets than we had ever found on a battlefield before, including 18 behind one rock.”

The story of what happened during this skirmish is verified and enhanced by archeological investigations on the Manassas Battlefield—a service being provided to the National Park Service by the Heritage Resource Management and Natural Resource Management teams at WSP. In March, WSP embarked on a planned four-year archeological study of the Manassas/Bull Run battlefield, beginning with systematic metal detecting in an area known as The Deep Cut.

“Imagine the scene,” Bedell continued. “Hundreds of young men from New York and Pennsylvania are pinned down by gunfire from the railroad cut just 40 yards away, struggling to load and return fire as they lay among the rocks; until, discovering that they would receive no reinforcements, they pull back from the crest and retreat down the hill. Numerous artillery shell fragments show that the retreat down the slope was made under fire the whole way.”

This is a recent example of a significant historical discovery to emerge from more than two decades of WSP’s collaboration with the National Capital Region of the National Park Service.

“Our findings are translated directly into interpretive materials for the public,” Bedell said. “Now rangers leading tours to the Deep Cut can say, without hesitation, ‘Union soldiers took cover on this slope and behind those rocks,’ which is just the sort of result they hope to get from these metal detecting studies.”

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WSP USA archeological surveys help tell a more complete story about historic locations.

Heritage Resources

WSP’s heritage resource management team offers numerous services, including archival research and historic site file searches, assessments of heritage resource potential, field surveys for archaeological sites and historic structures, National Register of Historic Places evaluations and nominations, and impact assessments.

Often, these projects are driven by a client’s need for regulatory compliance. WSP helps them achieve this objective to meet heritage resource requirements set by federal, state and local legal authorities.

“We have completed research projects that have furthered knowledge in the field,” said Steve Bedford, director of historic preservation at WSP. “We have provided advice on preservation or rehabilitation for many types of structures, from post offices to lighthouses.”

For example, a context study of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii provided historical context for the Pearl Harbor basin from pre-contact to the end of the Cold War.

“This gave the U.S. Navy its first comprehensive historical understanding of the base and its environs, which is a critical need for an active base that is also a National Historic Landmark and a national war memorial,” Bedford said. “The study assisted their heritage management staff to make more informed decisions relative to preservation and regulatory compliance.”

Nearby, WSP is also preparing a battlefield protection plan and master plan for Ewa Field in Oahu, Hawaii, evaluating land that is transferring from government ownership to a private developer.

“The site is a former Marine airfield that was bombed and strafed on Dec. 7, 1941,” Bedford said. “The goal is to preserve the essential areas of the battlefield while permitting compatible development of the remainder of the site.”

“Heritage Resource Management projects serve the public through interpretative and educational materials produced on behalf of public sector clients, which can include signage, presentations, brochures, publications, teaching curriculums, websites, traveling exhibits and other public outreach activities,” said Andrew Wilkins, WSP archaeologist. “These various means of engagement promote and utilize the resources managed by state and federal agencies for the education and enjoyment of the people they serve.”

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WSP conducts field reconnaissance level investigations to help protect threatened and endangered species.

Natural Resources

WSP also provides natural resource management services, such as ecology, wildlife, fisheries, wetlands, ecosystem restoration, land use permitting and water quality monitoring.

These capabilities were especially important when the National Park Service was preparing for the demolition and removal of 11 non-historic structures along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail property in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. WSP conducted a comprehensive assessment of each site and prepared a report noting the condition and location of the property and structures, routes to the site and any potential impediments to the removal of the structures and eventual site restoration.

“We helped the National Park Service eliminate potential hazards for hikers along the trail who could become injured at one of these deteriorated sites,” said Craig Hanlon, WSP principal environmental scientist for natural resource management.

WSP also conducted field reconnaissance level investigations for listed species habitat, and acquired and reviewed threatened, endangered and species of concern information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the New York Department of Environmental Protection, and the Pennsylvania and Virginia Natural Heritage Programs.

“This project gives me a sense of continuing a larger project—the Appalachian Trail—that was started back in 1921, and still presents challenges to National Park Service in protecting users who use the trail and surrounding facilities,” Hanlon said.

Natural resources services are also critical for projects like the drainage upgrade along Route 29 near Trenton, New Jersey to reduce flooding and improve safety for motorists on behalf of the New Jersey Department of Transportation. The work includes installing 15 tide backflow prevention boxes between the river wall and Route 29, widening narrow roadway shoulders in some areas, installing additional curb inlets, and replacing approximately 750 feet of the floodwall.

“Frequent flooding has occurred throughout this section of the roadway, often causing road closures,” Hanlon said. “For transportation-related projects like this, we prepare a design that is above future flood elevations.”

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Site surveyors are gathering and analyzing data that can improve projects.

Geospatial Analysis

Geospatial services have also played a key role in successful historical and natural surveys. WSP’s services include GIS, web mapping, mobile data collection applications and drone surveys.

“Geospatial data underpins a large proportion of the projects that WSP is involved with,” said Jay Puckett, director of the WSP geospatial analysis and cartography group. “Whether a client is asking for quality map making, analysis of factors across a landscape, or geospatial applications, a high level of expertise with GIS and geospatial data is required.”

Using geospatial data can improve the overall project by allowing spatially-enabled decision making and analysis.

“Many factors that go into planning or design projects involve looking for data across the landscape, and the proper collection, display and analysis of that geographic data can reveal trends that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to identify,” Puckett said. “Maps can serve as strong communication tools when conveying the results of analysis in a report or in providing data about a project to the public.”

A lack of quality data at the right spatial scale has long been a significant limitation of using GIS on many projects. This is becoming less and less of an issue as the quantity of publicly available data has increased and the cost of acquiring new datasets has decreased dramatically.

A large challenge that remains is the lack of understanding by some clients of the centrality of geospatial data to many of their projects.

“A client may think of their project as a pure planning effort without realizing the need for a comprehensive geospatial database to inform the planning effort or without understanding the value that geospatial tools can bring to the overall project effort,” Puckett said. “This leads to a lack of resources for geospatial staff to be involved beyond a cursory level and missed opportunities to deploy helpful geospatial applications on projects.”

Whether that geospatial data is core to the project itself or only tangential, an improved strategy of gathering, analyzing and displaying geospatial data can improve projects. WSP is providing expertise in every stage of these projects; whether it is in strategy and costing during the proposal stage, the development of geospatial applications to help meet project goals, or the mapping and exploration of spatial data during analysis.

WSP has developed mobile data collection applications that simplify field data collection by streamlining the data preparation, data collection and reporting functions into a single GIS-based system.

“This type of system can save time, improve the consistency of field data, and ensure higher-quality data by building quality control checks into the process,” Puckett said. “WSP is helping clients design and implement an internal strategy, regardless of the size of its operations.”

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WSP conducts an archeological survey of the Antietam Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland.

Unexpected Discoveries

WSP works with clients to streamline the regulatory process by using alternative procedures—such as predictive modeling—and digital data collection, to find the most appropriate solution.

“To understand the nature of each project and its effects on resources, we collaborate with our colleagues on the specifics of the work being done,” said Camilla McDonald, WSP manager of historic preservation. “Understanding the reason behind the project and the specifics of the work can often lead to creative methodologies and solutions.”

These projects can lead to unexpected discoveries.

“Even the best planning doesn’t predict everything,” McDonald said. “Being able to quickly deploy resources to address heritage and natural resource issues, and have the flexibility and expertise to complete such work while working within the confines of the regulatory process, is key to providing a high level of service.”

They are services that prove to be quite satisfying for the WSP team.

“Every day, I am able to take what I know and connect people with their history,” said Kathryn Wilkins, WSP archaeologist. “The projects that we are privileged to work on are often located in someone’s backyard, hometown, or even just a place that they feel passionate about—spaces that mean something but are at risk of being overlooked as part of the larger project scope. As leaders in heritage resource management, the work that we do provides these passionate folks in communities across the U.S. an opportunity to learn, explore, connect and value and what has come before and the potential of the future.”

Bedford added that these projects provide a means to stretch and broaden our creative and intellectual capacities. “For those of us with a passion for understanding the past, they advance and round out our knowledge of our history,” he said.

[To subscribe to Insights, contact the editorial staff at insights@wsp.com.]

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©WSP USA

WSP provides natural resource management services for ecology, wildlife, fisheries, wetlands, ecosystem restoration, land use permitting and water quality monitoring.

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