Donnelly Training Area (DTA) lands have supported human populations for the past 10,000 to 12,000 years. Though not located on Army lands, two of the oldest well-dated sites in North America—Swan Point and Broken Mammoth, dated to between 11,500 and 12,400 radiocarbon years before present (BP)—are located in the Tanana Valley near the DTA. The oldest radiocarbon date for any item found on DTA itself is 9920+/-60 years BP.
The DTA lands fall within an area occupied at the time of Euro-American contact by Lower-Middle Tanana Athabaskans. Traditional settlement patterns focused on a widely mobile seasonal round, including caribou hunting and summer fishing, berry and root collecting and sheep hunting. These activities frequently had a communal focus including several local ‘bands’ connected by common interest, geography, and intermarriage.
As Euro-American traders, miners, missionaries, and explorers moved into the Tanana River valley, the traditional lifestyles of local Athabaskan groups were disrupted. In 1898, the discovery of gold in the Tanana uplands began a rush of Euro-American settlement into the Tanana River valley. As the economic importance of the valley increased, the need for reliable transportation routes and communication systems rose in tandem. Existing trails, such as the Bonnifield, Donnelly-Washburn, and Valdez-Fairbanks trails, saw increased use and development in the first decade of the 20th century. This increase in activity also resulted in the establishment of several roadhouses and posts. In 1906, Congressional appropriations led to improvement of the Valdez-Fairbanks trail, crossing the Alaska Range south of Delta Junction, following the Tanana River to Fairbanks. Completion of the Alaska Railroad in 1923 was followed two decades later by construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942, firmly tying the Alaskan interior to the outside.
Development in the Alaskan interior increased dramatically with the advent of World War II and the subsequent military build-up in Alaska. Of particular significance was the development of the airfield near Delta Junction (Fort Greely). This and other locations began as lend-lease bases and cold weather testing centers, but soon expanded with the increased need for military support during World War II and later, the Cold War.
Today’s Donnelly Training Area was formerly part of Ft. Greely, an Arctic training and testing installation south of Delta Junction. Ft. Greely’s predecessor was Allen Army Airfield, a World War II airfield built in 1942 to support the Lend-Lease operation along the Northwest Staging Route. After the war, the Army began to use the installation and surrounding lands for much-needed Arctic testing and training. In 1955, the airfield and 678,000 acres of training lands became part of the new post of Ft. Greely. As the home of the Northern Warfare Training Center and the Army’s Cold Regions Test Center, Ft. Greely continued to support Arctic training and testing missions. With the closure of Ft. Greely in 2001, the training lands were transferred to the control of Ft. Wainwright and are presently known as the Donnelly Training Area. The DTA is no longer affiliated with the re-established Ft. Greely, which is now a small area under assigned to the Space and Missile Defense Command.
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