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Schoharie Crossing parking site set after long search

Troves of history complicated job

Thursday, March 7, 2013
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— Schoharie Crossing Historic Site staffers have finally figured out where to put a new parking lot, which was harder than it sounds.

When Tropical Storm Irene pushed Schoharie Creek from its banks a year and a half ago and ripped away the old Schoharie Crossing parking lot, site staffers found themselves in a bit of a quandary.

Under the old lot, clean-up volunteers discovered loads of Mohawk Indian artifacts and some stone formations. Those stones turned out to be the foundations of old Fort Hunter, a frontier-era military outpost.

It was a major archaeological development, and while site manager Janice Fontanella was over the moon about getting hold of more history, the find necessitated relocation of the parking lot.

“We dug test pits in a few locations,” she said, “and we kept finding artifacts too good to cover up.”

Michael G. Roets, chief archaeologist for the Bureau of Historic Sites, led the search for a history-free parking lot location.

First off, the field between the road and Enders House — the small structure on the eastern edge of the site — looked promising, but then Roets dug five test holes and found Mohawk artifacts in each one, including a shell necklace and bear’s tooth.

“Eighteen inches down, there is a Mohawk village,” he told The Gazette in a previous interview, adding that the history is far too valuable to pave over.

Over the summer he tried a few other places to the east and south of the site but between the Mohawk Indian artifacts, the old Fort Hunter and the more recent Erie Canal structures, he came up with history in seemingly every shovel of dirt.

Discovering history is generally regarded as a good thing and the work at Schoharie Crossing was no exception. The Mohawk artifacts shed light on the Indians’ living conditions, what they ate and some traditions they partially adopted from soldiers living in the fort.

“We have a lot of new artifacts,” Fontanella said.

It all paints a picture of what life on the frontier was like, but the situation was also a little annoying. With no parking lot, all visitors had to park along the road.

Fontanella recounted rainy days and muddy boots, especially in the ripped-up aftermath of the flood.

“It was more messy than anything else,” she said.

Now, after months of surveying and test digs by Roets, they’ve found a good location, a patch of ground relatively devoid of historical artifacts, north of the Fort Hunter dig. It’s the same place cars have parked during Canal Day celebrations for years.

Randy Simons, a spokesman for the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said the exact parking lot location has yet to get final approval, but the general spot is picked out.

The plan is to lay down a tarmac slab big enough for 15 cars sometime this summer. It’s a bit of a walk to the visitor center, but Fontanella said it will be better than parking along the road.

A few other building projects are also slated for this summer. Once the foundations of the old fort were excavated and documented the site was filled in for preservation. This summer stones will be laid over the top to approximate for visitors what the buried structure looks like.

The old signs ripped up by the flood will be replaced with shiny redesigned ones and some of the best new artifacts will be featured in new displays.

“It’s a really cool time to be working at Schoharie Crossing,” Fontanella said.

 
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