The active military base Fort Indiantown Gap, located in northern Lebanon County, is the busiest and most utilized National Guard training installation in the country, with 150,000 troops receiving training last year, David Weisnicht, deputy base operations manager, told the county commissioners last month.
It is also the only military installation in the nation that is not protected by any type of perimeter wall or fencing.
It is, in effect, open to the public.
That is expected to change soon, said Lieutenant Colonel Keith Hickox, public affairs officer for The Gap, who said officials are hopeful a groundbreaking for the first gates of a perimeter fence will take place sometime this spring.
Fort Indiantown Gap covers more than 17,000 acres or about 33 square miles.
A specific date has not been determined, Hickox said, and he stressed, that even though a fence will be forthcoming, the spring groundbreaking will be for the gates that will be built first.
“Construction for the fence itself is much further down the road,” Hickox said.
Originally, construction of the two gates was supposed to begin last year.
“The original goal was to start last year, but construction has been pushed back several times,” said Brad Rhen, spokesman for the Pennsylvania National Guard.
But the timeline for the perimeter fence and gates is not on a permanent schedule yet, due to delays with the contractor and the Army Corp of Engineers.
“These are the type of delays – with design and permits – that are affecting the project and are out of our control,” Hickox said.
One of the two main gates will be built on the southwest side of the installation near Interstate 81 and Funck’s Restaurant, just north of Biddle Drive, while the other gate will be on the east end of the post, just west of Quartermaster Road.
The gates will essentially be checkpoints, and will be manned by soldiers who will check identification for anyone coming onto the post.
For civilians, there will be processes, Hickox said, for the public to gain access to the installation. The exact details of this process are still being finalized, but it is expected to be similar to the process at other U.S. military bases.
Buildings will be built at the checkpoint area and there may be more than one lane to drive through at the sites, Hickox said.
“It will look similar to other military installations, Army depots, or active duty posts,” Hickox said.
“This plan to secure Fort Indiantown Gap has been in the works for at least five years and it is the only installation in the country that remains open,” Hickox said. He noted that The Gap is in a unique and challenging position with the state routes that go through the military base.
Recently, PennDOT handed over a portion of the state roadway – parts of Routes 934 and 443 – to the installation.
Placing the roadway under the installation’s authority was one phase of a multi-phase plan that has been in the works for several years, Hickox said.
Most of the Indiantown Gap Military Reservation is located in Lebanon County, with a portion in Dauphin County.
In the past decade, the Gap has doubled the amount of training it offers and is also increasing their security.
“Our security measures at Fort Indiantown Gap are constantly changing, based upon external and internal factors,” said Rhen.
The Gap is adjacent to Interstate 81 and visitors can currently drive through Gap roads unimpeded.
The Gap currently employs a number of Lebanon County residents in civilian roles, while many county residents are aware of the nearby military training due to the reverberations of artillery training.
Currently, the Fort Indiantown Gap Community Club and the Keystone Conference Center are open to the public, available for banquet and catering services for special events. Residents are required to submit a request to hold public events on Gap grounds.
The Keystone Conference Center will continue to be available to the public, Hickox said, as it can be accessed without going through the secure part of the Gap.
“The Community Center will be a little more complicated,” Hickox said.
“We’re split into two parts, and of those 17,000 acres, not all of that will be enclosed,” Hickox said. “Security elements will be around the garrison, but not the training corridor.”
Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, Memorial Lake State Park, Keystone Conference Center, and Second Mountain Hawk Watch are outside of the perimeter and will be able to be accessed by the public.
Information is still limited at this time, Hickox said.
When the groundbreaking occurs, more information will be available to the public, including how to deal with traffic issues.
“Construction will cause some traffic disruption,” Hickox said, adding that the site of traffic issues depends on which gate goes under construction first.
“We have a pretty comprehensive plan for the traffic that will be affected during the construction,” Hickox said, explaining that studies done by PennDOT are addressing the issue.
Conditions necessary to increase security measures are constantly being assessed for all installations in the United States, said Lieutenant Colonel Michael Hatfield, spokesman for the US Northern Command.
The Northern Command refers to all installations in North America.
“We don’t discuss specific changes in security because it wouldn’t be appropriate,” Hatfield said.
Any information made public is based on a “need to know” basis, Hatfield said.
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This article was updated to clarify and expand a few comments. In an earlier version of the article, Brad Rhen was misidentified as the spokesperson for U.S. Northern Command but he is in fact spokesperson for the Pennsylvania National Guard. We have also clarified that construction had been previously scheduled to begin in 2019, not “last month” as originally published (this article having been written in January). This article was also updated to note the location of Fort Indiantown Gap in northern Lebanon County.
On Feb. 6 we updated this article again to clarify how access to the secure area will be managed.