The National Guard Bureau is restarting an effort to remediate the former Mount Gretna area military training camp that has its origins in an 1880s era act of generosity by local corporate titan, Robert H. Coleman.
In 1885, Mount Gretna became home to a military encampment to train members of the Third Brigade of the National Guard following an invitation by Coleman. By 1887, more than 9,000 soldiers arrived at Soldiers Field, which then encompassed 120 acres.
The training grounds continued to be used until Fort Indiantown Gap was established in the 1930s. Today, the majority of that land is owned by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The Chautauqua Foundation owns part of the property that lies closest to Mount Gretna itself, purchased in a million-dollar 2018 transaction with Eastern Enterprises, owners of the Mount Gretna Lake & Beach Club and other real estate in the area.
The Gretna area is therefore littered with history from an era when the adjectives “small” and “quaint” would hardly describe the hustle and bustle of the Coleman era retreat. And quite possibly, history is not the only thing still littering the landscape…
First advertised through a legal ad in the Lebanon Daily News, the National Guard Bureau has restarted an effort to investigate the grounds and determine whether further remediation is needed.
“During the Guard’s time at Mount Gretna, we fired mortar and artillery rounds at established ranges,” said Brad Rhen, deputy public affairs officer for the Pennsylvania National Guard at Fort Indiantown Gap. “These old ranges were never remediated and some of these old munitions have re-surfaced over the years.”
Rhen said that the remediation used by the National Guard Bureau is called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA)– more commonly known as the Superfund law.
As part of the CERCLA process, a Restoration Advisory Board can be created for the public to review and comment on the environmental data and cleanup plans and activities, Rhen said.
“NGB previously began the CERCLA process at Mount Gretna in 2012,” said Rhen. “Due to funding issues, that project was put on hold.”
Rhen said that NGB has now secured additional funds and, since the scope of the project has grown in acreage, NGB is restarting the CERCLA and re-inviting the public to establish a RAB.
The RAB itself would not be involved in the actual work of remediation or cleanup. It would serve as an advisory body rather than a decision-making body, with the intent of expanding public participation in environmental restoration.
“Once established, the RAB would develop and formally document its operating procedures, including goals, size, attendance, approving minutes, meeting frequency, selecting and replacing members, resolving disputes, responding to public comments on issues addressed by RAB, and public participation in RAB activities,” said Rhen.
According to the legal ad, at least 50 individuals need to express interest in the RAB for it to be formed. If you are interested in participating, contact the Guard’s Public Affairs Office at (717) 861-6894 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Being good stewards of the environment is a top priority for the Pennsylvania National Guard and the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs,” said Rhen. “Our environmental programs are very thorough, and they have won numerous awards over the years.”
Find more links and photos of Gretna’s military past below.
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