Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ghost steps

Yesterday I played a little hooky and hunted the Crackerneck Wildlife Management Area along the South Carolina/Georgia border.  This is no ordinary managed public land - it's located on on the property of the Savannah River Site, more on this in a minute.

Walking among the tall pines it occurred to me that this very same land was likely hunted by my wife's grandfather back in the 1940s, avid small game hunter that he was.  While it's not unusual to hunt in the same places as family members from earlier generations, it is a bit unusual to come back after so many years and be the first in several generations to do so.

path of Cold War secrets
At the time he lived in Ellenton, SC, one of three small towns taken over by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1950 to build the Savannah River Site, a production facility for enriching weapons-grade nuclear material.  'Taken over' is a nice way of saying the government exercised its right of eminent domain and gave the people in these towns only one choice: leave.  The families were given a matter of weeks to find a new place to live, pack up everything they owned and move.  Even some of the graves were relocated.  And there was no going back.  I'm sure they were paid a fair market price for their real estate, but they weren't compensated for having to give up their life as they'd known it.  Many of the farmers found it impossible to start over in a new town.

I'm not anti-government by any means.  Every good, stable democracy needs one and yet at the same time it's virtually impossible for any government to please all its people all the time.  This site was picked for a variety of reasons one of which was surely that it would require displacing relatively few people, same as with sites picked for dams and power plants, but that certainly didn't make it any easier on those affected.

Gandy, as he was known to my wife, carried an LC Smith 12ga that my father-in-law still owns and has earmarked for my son.  I'll confess to a small bit of envy since I've never owned a shotgun that belonged to any of my ancestors.  The South Carolina DNR has done a tremendous job of improving the bobwhite habitat in the Crackerneck area and if their budget doesn't dry up and the government doesn't decide to repossess or restrict the property again, my plan is to close the loop when my son gets old enough to shoot that gun.

If you're a history buff or just curious about the story of Ellenton and the Savannah River Site, I'd suggest starting with the website of a documentary produced a couple of years ago, Displaced.  There's an interesting picture, the first one in Gallery 4, showing several hand-painted signs tacked onto the city limit sign of Ellenton soon after notice was given to the residents.  I'd post it here but I'm not sure about the copyrights, even though we have a copy of it in our home.  It reads: It is hard to understand why our town must be destroyed to make a bomb that will destroy someone else's town that they love as much as we love ours.  But we feel that they picked not just the best spot in the US, but in the world.  We love these dear hearts and gentle people who live in our Home Town. If that doesn't sum up the irony of the event I'm not sure what does.

Monday, February 7, 2011