February 27, 2017
Become a citizen scientist, monitor historic sites
By Cathy Chestnut
Sea-level rise is an issue Southwest Floridians certainly aren’t eager to grapple with, but based on scientific data and modeling, it appears to be a looming reality that will one day affect coastal property owners and the region’s ecosystems.
A rise of 1 to 4 feet would also impact are local cultural resources, from ancient to mid-century. That’s the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projection by the year 2100. To that end, the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) is recruiting the public to become citizen scientists in monitoring historic sites along shorelines—salt, fresh and brackish.
The network launched the Heritage Monitoring Scouts (HMS) Florida program in August to get more boots on the ground collecting data and photos that can aid local officials across the state in prioritizing jeopardized sites following significant storm events as well as for long-range planning.
“We’re gathering a baseline to see where our sites are at right now. We wanted to create a citizen-scientist program aimed at people who already are enjoying archaeology and history, and like to explore sites or sites they have never visited, and give them a concrete way to protect those sites,” explained FPAN Southwest Regional Center Public Archaeology Coordinator Rachael Kangas. “We’re asking what threats people are seeing when they are at those sites and trying to determine which are most at-risk for erosion and other damage.”
Along with erosion and flooding, scouts observe storm surge and wave action, wind, vegetation growth, animal disturbance, visitor traffic, vehicle damage and development. They fill out a form and submit photos with location coordinates and a directional indicator. Sites include Calusa mounds, cemeteries, historically registered and designated places, pioneer homesteads and newer landmarks. They can be located on private or public property, and managed and conservation lands. “Any site that is over 50 years old is considered historic,” said Kangas. “We’re willing to take monitoring sheets on any of those.”
Monitoring through FPAN’s eight regional offices is based on the Florida Master Site File containing more than 16,000 sites throughout the state—with hundreds in the region—“that will be impacted by a 1-meter rise,” Kangas said.
Gayle Sheets, of Fort Myers, is passionate about the area’s natural history. She’s a volunteer with Lee County Bird Patrol, conducts guided walks on Lee County’s Conservation 20/20 properties, and is a docent at Randell Research Center on Pineland, where she took FPAN’s first local training seminar in November.
Already, Sheets and her scouting partner, Polly Eldred, have visited a dozen sites, and even added a site to the Florida Master Site File’s inventory that was missing—the Sanibel Cemetery.
Conducting the cemetery research “got me thinking about what it must have been like to live the life of a pioneer on Sanibel. The earliest grave site dates from 1889,” said Sheets, 70. “My heart was also touched in a way that I hadn’t expected because I realized that cemeteries tell us a lot about how our culture perceives loss and the value of human life—such as a wooden hobby horse and Teddy bear nestled beside the grave of a child. That sentiment is worth paying attention to.”
Sheets and Eldred have surveyed Buckingham Trails and Wild Turkey Strand, both associated with the World War II Buckingham Army Airfield. They have explored around the Sanibel Lighthouse and Alva, as well as Captiva’s Historic Cemetery and the Fort Myers Cemetery.
“I feel privileged to be offered the opportunity to ‘adventure with a purpose,’ and to be able to record observations that could be used 10, 30, 60 years from now to give context to whatever conditions exist in the future,” said Sheets.
Sheets said an ideal HMS volunteer is “someone who enjoys being outside and likes exploring. Someone who has good organizational skills because we take photos, keep notes on the photos, and that all needs to be recorded accurately.”
Scouts make note of, without tampering with, the presences of lithic artifacts, shell tools, ceramics, glass and architectural components, even small details such as nails, wire and bricks. Kangas is networking with land managers of large parcels who are frequently on location.
Kangas is offering training sessions in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties, though she notes that potential participants can review information online and get involved without formal training. “We have a lot of people who live close to a site and may walk by it all the time,” she said.
Become a Heritage Monitoring Scout
Florida Public Archaeology Network is hosting:
· A one-hour informational meeting at Cape Coral-Lee County Library, 921 SW 39th Terrace, on Friday, March 3, at 1 p.m. (Register at 239-479-INFO (4636).
· In-depth trainings, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Collier County Museum in Naples on Saturday, March 4; South County Regional Library in Estero on Friday, April 7; and Charlotte County Historical Center on Monday, May 8. (Go to Eventbrite.com and search for HMS to register.)
The Southwest chapter of FPAN serves Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, and Lee counties. FPAN is a program of Florida Atlantic University’s Department of Anthropology.
Office: 2211 Widman Way, Suite 230, Fort Myers
Call: (239) 223-6865 or (239) 565-9402
HMS Florida information: http://fpan.us/projects/HMSflorida.php