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All told, APG contains around 73,000 acres of land and water and more than 100 miles of tidal Chesapeake shoreline.The vast bulk of it is undeveloped forest and wetlands, providing buffers around its mission — testing weapons, vehicles and other combat gear used by the Army.
Cleanup of contaminated soil and groundwater continues in the larger area of the proving ground’s Edgewood Peninsula.Much of the acreage is also effectively off-limits to human intrusion because of unexploded ordnance or “UXO,” the legacy of 100 years of constant gunfire.Carroll Island lies within a 13,000-acre portion of the APG that became a federal Superfund site in 1990 because it was contaminated with residues from chemical weapons testing and manufacture dating back to the use of mustard gas in the 1920s.In 1917, propelled by the war and three presidential proclamations by Woodrow Wilson, Aberdeen Proving Ground came into existence with lightning speed after local protests took Kent Island off the military’s wish list.Between October of that year and January of 1918, the land was acquired, local residents moved out with 0 an acre for compensation, and the Army fired its first shots — testing shells that fragmented into shrapnel.“Please Straddle Turtles.” The curious sign, on a lonesome dirt road that winds through marshes and forests along the northern Chesapeake Bay, shows a military Humvee taking care to keep a spotted turtle between its wheels.
The turtle in question, classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is a small reptile with a dark head and shell with bright yellow polka dots, reminiscent of the starry night sky.
In 1680, the first Baltimore Town, miles north of the present city, became a bustling tobacco port on the Bush River within the proving grounds’ current boundaries.
It is an important archaeological site, but UXO has hindered full examination.
It’s a tiny illustration of how nature manages surprisingly well at a place whose main mission since 1917 has been devoted to war-making and national defense.
And the nurturing of nature on the proving grounds is actually typical of millions of acres owned by the Department of Defense nationwide.
On this late September day, we’re on Carroll Island in Baltimore County, toward the proving ground's southern boundary, touring the installation from a habitat perspective.