Though perhaps best known as the site of the Marine Corps' most notorious proving ground, Parris Island has a lengthy history that predates the arrival of the Corps in 1915.
It's a history that few visitors to the island know about and one that the staff of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island's Cultural Resource Office recently was honored by the Navy for preserving.
A handful of staffers from Parris Island attended a ceremony in late May at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., where B.J. Penn, the assistant secretary of the Navy for installations and environment, honored the depot and 14 other Navy and Marine Corps bases. Awards were given for achievement in protecting and conserving environmental and cultural resources.
The depot was recognized as having the Marine Corps' best cultural resources program, an award Stephen Wise says recognizes Parris Island's unique historical significance.
"It's a tremendous honor, particularly considering how many fantastic cultural resource managers and archeologists there are at the other Marine Corps bases," said Wise, Parris Island's cultural resources manager and director of the Parris Island Museum. "It's a recognition of what we're doing here."
Wise said part of protecting the depot's cultural heritage is making the public aware that it exists.
"A lot of people don't know about the history of Parris Island and don't know that we have prehistoric Indian sites here, Spanish and French settlements, freedmen settlements and plantations," Wise said.
To help shed light on the island's history -- which was occupied by American Indians for more than 4,000 years before the arrival of French Huguenots in 1562 -- the museum started a public outreach program that included creating the Iron Mike Bike Tour. Starting last year, the self-guided tour named after the depot's famous statue leads visitors along a marked route to various stations and Parris Island landmarks where they're greeted by museum staff or volunteers -- some in period costume. The next bike tour is scheduled for this fall, according to the museum.
Tim Harrington, deputy environmental program manager for Parris Island, said programs such as the bike tour show how Wise and his staff have helped facilitate the depot's primary mission of training would-be Marines while protecting an integral part of the Marine Corps' history.
"Parris Island is the place where the Marine Corps hands down its history and traditions to its future standard bearers. As such, preservation of our military history is essential to our mission," Harrington said. "More broadly, Parris Island possesses sites and archaeological resources of national and international significance. The depot's cultural resources management program ... has aggressively preserved and protected those resources while continuing to support the expanding recruit training mission."
With more than 100 archeological sites on the island, Marines on Parris Island realize that the island's history and Beaufort's history are intertwined, said Maj. Gabrielle Chapin, spokeswoman for the depot.
"Preserving the island's history is important to the depot and to the Marine Corps, but it doesn't end there," she said. "We very much consider Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island as part of the fabric of this community."