Published in The Coast Star on September 2, 2004
Page 8, cont. 51
On Aug. 25, the U.S Department of Defense Base Realignment and Closure office transferred the first 17 acres of the 37-acre Camp Evans Historic District to Wall Township [see related story] . This transfer, begun in 1993, positions the historic site for a new beginning as a science-history education site.
The 17 acres of Camp Evans transferred is along the Shark River, north of Marconi Road. It includes a large part of the Marconi Wireless Station and the Project
Diana/TIROS site .
The property was transferred to Wall without a fee as a public benefit to the American public. To meet the requirements of the transfer many citizens, the Township Committee and many township officials have invested considerable time and energy to meet the transfer requirements to save the historic site for education .
First, in 1993, the Township Committee appointed citizens to the Marconi Reuse Committee. The reuse committee is chaired by Michael Fitzgerald. After dozens of meetings, using input from the community gathered in public hearing
in 1995, they developed the Marconi Park Complex reuse plan.The plan was approved by the Township Committee in 1996 and accepted by the Department of Defense .
The BRAC program requires every property it transfers must be environmentally clean and safe for the new owner. A Restoration Advisory Board [RAB] was formed in 1996 to review and comment to the BRAC cleanup team . The RAB is led by Robert McAllen . The RAB, which has met nearly 100 times since its formation, is instrumental in assuring community interests are considered in the long cleanup process . The BRAC cleanup is managed by Charles Appleby,
the Base Environmental Coordinator and its work is overseen by representatives of the state Department of Environmental
Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
In 1993, a group of citizens began exploring the possibility of saving a portion of Camp Evans as a historic site dedicated to education. Members of the group visited and collected information about successful science centers around the country and provided this information to the Marconi Park Reuse Committee. The input was incorporated in the plan .
In 1998, the group of citizens incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation, the Information Age Learning Center, or InfoAge. The group of volunteers did research into the history of Camp Evans in the National Archives and university libraries, and interviewed U .S . Army veterans who worked at Camp Evans. Much of this research is posted on their extensive web site http://www.infoage.org.
InfoAge members developed a 75-page nomination of 37 acres of Camp Evans as a historic district t o the State Register of Historic Places . To qualify for transfer as historic property the site needed to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2000 the state approved the nomination. InfoAge then submitted the nomination to the National Park Service NPS for listing on the National Register of Historic Places . The Old Wall Historical Society and Rep . Chris Smith [R-NJ] helped win approval for the nomination in 2002.
Once the area was listed on the National Register and as a BRAC site, the NPS approved the transfer of the Camp Evans Historic District as a historic monument dedicated to education in 2002 . Wall Township submitted the application to the NPS Surplus Historic Properties Program. The complex application was four inches thick and contained 28 drawings, and more 200 photos
and illustrations . The application was prepared by InfoAge volunteers Fred Carl, Robert Judge and Larry Tormey.
From 2000 to the present many issues arose in the property clean up and transfer. The Wall Township Committee and the Camp Evans RAB were steadfast in insisting that no property would be transferred until the site is safe and clean. They also refused to allow the property to be sold at auction. Rep. Smith again helped Wall every step of the way, the advocacy group PreservationNJ
helped focus attention on the sewer replacement issues and the National Trust for Historic Preservation provided legal consultation to Township Attorney Roger McLaughlin and the Wall Township Committee .
The negotiation skills of Mr .McLaughlin, Mr. Robert McAllen , Township Administrator Joe Verruni and Mayor Mr. Robert Peters resulted in a agreement for the transfer of a clean and environmentally safe historic district in three phases .
Now that the first transfer ha s been completed, the InfoAge organization can continue preservation work on the site . Over the past two years volunteers have painted the exterior of all the Diana site buildings. The funds for paint were provided by the Wall Kiwanis Club and the Fort Monmouth AFCEA chapter. Currently the Ocean- Monmouth Amateur Radio Club and the Quarter Century Wireless Association have been offering Morse code classes on site
. Josh Foxton, a Wall Township Eagle Scout candidate, has been working to restore the gate guard hut with the help of the Wall Township Public works.
The InfoAge goal is to bring space education programs to the site. Infoage has been invited by NASA to send representatives to Kennedy Space Center in November to help develop space education programs for science centers. InfoAge is preparing the TIROS command and control building for radar history and space education programs .
The 17 acres transferred on Wednesday have a special place in communications, World Wars I and II, astronomy, space exploration and meteorology history . From the early days of spark gap wireless to the age of satellites, the site played a part .
Even before the Marconi Station was completed, 90 years ago in August, celebrated communications history was made at the site on Jan . 30 and 31, 1914 . The young electronic circuit innovator Edwin Armstrong arrived at the station
with Marconi Company employee David Sarnoff . They were there to test Armstrong’s first breakthrough, the regenerative circuit . The successful test has been called the beginning of modem radio by historians. With Armstrong’s new circuit, wireless stations could be clearly heard as far away as Germany and Hawaii from Wall . Armstrong would recall his visit to Wall every year until his death on the anniversary of his visit. During World War I, the U .S . Navy would take over the station and operate it as the central communications point for wireless messages to Europe. Some of the most important messages of World War I passed through Wall. Secret antenna research done in Wall by the Navy staff would change wireless technology and give the Allies important technology advantages . During World War II, the site hosted the U .S . Army Signal Corps radar laboratory . Cutting edge radars were developed, improved and tested before American industry made them by the thousands to help win the war. The radar units north within the 17 acres were used to search for Nazi U-boats along the coast
the moon, the Project Diana antenna was replaced with a 50-foot dish .The dish was ready to track the first scheduled advanced function American satellite when the Soviets launched Sputnik. The Soviet surprise was tracked from Wall 24 hours a day. Later space scientists created detailed maps of the moon using the radar and tracked every American and Soviet space launch into the 1970s.
On April 1, 1960 the Diana site received signals from the first weather satellite, TIROS, using the 60-foot dish found at the site today . The site was now the NASA TIROS Command and Control Center for the fist two experimental weather satellites. In the building attached to the giant antenna, the first 22,000 photos of cloud formations from space were developed and sent to NASA in Washington. This was a great leap in meteorology. The first typhoon was seen in Wall . Weather scientists realized what powerful tools these cameras in space were,and an entire operational series of satellites was built to help weather prediction worldwide. No longer would typhoons and hurricanes hit land without warning, killing thousands .
These 17 acres have an amazing past and many people and organizations have worked and are working to preserve this past and create a new future for Camp Evans in education.
[Fred Carl is director of the InfoAge Learning Center at Camp Evans.]