It’s hard to imagine that the rolling hills of Pole Mountain once had 75-mm military guns lined up for as far as the eye could see.
From 1879 to 1961, the Pole Mountain Unit of the Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming was used as a target and maneuver area for military training. The Army and Air Force used the area to train soldiers and airmen in the use of weapons and munitions.
Today the Forest Service manages the 58,000-acre site for multiple-use. However, there remain unexploded munitions in the area. Every now and then, a citizen brings a military object to authorities for disposal.
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The Army Corps of Engineers, with the Forest Service as a cooperating agency, is using satellite technology to detect and remove the munitions.
“Pole Mountain is a popular recreation area, so we’re also enhancing our public education efforts – letting people know these objects are dangerous and they should just leave them in place and notify authorities,” said Laramie District Ranger Larry Sandoval.
The Army Corps first does a visual survey, and relating it to historic information, can determine the most likely areas to find munitions.
“We then geophysically map, and via satellite, can pin point locations of metallic objects, including magnetic rocks, “ said Dennis Myers, ordnance and explosives safety specialist with the Corps. “With this technology, we can pick up items up to 22 feet underground.”
One live munition was found and detonated on the site this summer. Mortars, fuses, shrapnel, and lots of metal casings have been found, including a fuse dated 1898. Old knives, forks and other utensils, left over from military camps, were also located.
The Corps has worked at the site off and on for several years but had more funding this year to do more intensive work.
Sandoval explained that the work is being under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, with the Army Corps of Engineers as the lead agency working with the Forest Service and Wyoming State Historical Preservation Organization.
By Diann Ritschard, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests & Thunder Basin National Grassland