Off Beat: Digging at fort site can open a hole new can of worms

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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It's important to differentiate your historically sensitive excavation from a hole in the ground.

That's why some workers had to be careful Friday while doing cleanup and restoration after the July 4 fireworks show. They had to dig archaeologically appropriate postholes.

It was all part of the annual Independence Day celebration at the Fort Vancouver National Site.

A week ago, workers temporarily removed long stretches of split-rail fence that marks the north boundary of Vancouver Barracks. That allowed easier access to people walking from Officers Row to the Parade Ground.

The Fort Vancouver National Historic Site also took down stretches of fence at the bottom of the "great meadow" so crews could set up the main stage and people could get to food vendors on Fifth Street.

After taking down the 10-foot fence rails, the crews pulled up the fence posts and then temporarily filled the postholes with dirt.

Friday, they reversed the hole process. Fifteen teens who are part of a summer job exposure program reset the fence along Officers Row. They were instructed to make sure the postholes were in the same spots as the previous holes, said Eric Island, program coordinator with Youth and Young Adults Being Connected.

It makes practical sense, of course, since you want all the elements of the fence to match up with the way they were before. There also is a scientific reason, said Doug Wilson, archaeologist at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

A new posthole would amount to an archaeological excavation, Wilson said. When that happens, Wilson or Bob Cromwell, another National Park Service archaeologist at Fort Vancouver, get involved.

"Anything new, Bob or I would have to observe," Wilson said.

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.