ROCK HILL — Anyone hoping to spend a February night camping out in Ebenezer Park might notice some unusual activity around the boat ramps. Don't worry, it's just an amphibious operation of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Unless you knew forces from Marine Special Operations Command at Camp Lejeune — MARSOC in military lingo — were using this York County park on the shores of Lake Wylie for overnight training exercises, it might not register who the men and equipment moving off the speed boats belonged to. And the Marines are fine with that.
"Our MARSOC Marines will not be dressed in uniform, nor will they have any military equipment or weapons," said Capt. Barry Morris with MARSOC's public affairs office. "Essentially, our Marines will look like normal campgoers utilizing the lake at night."
Morris said Ebenezer was selected as an ideal site for "realistic military training," a venue just close enough to the civilian world that it can replicate the kind of conditions Marines can expect during special operations deployments for the Corps' Middle Eastern, African and Pacific commands, all served by MARSOC forces.
"This exercise is conducted in an environment that is controlled, yet unfamiliar to the Marines being trained," Morris said. "This ensures our training is both safe and realistic."
Assistant York County Manager David Harmon said the Marines approached them about using Ebenezer Park in mid-January, and all that was required of the county was to sign off on the use of county property. Harmon said this is the first military operation of its kind for which York County had ever been approached.
The Marines will be infiltrating the park overnight on Feb. 18 and 19. Three teams of six Marines each will "occupy the wood line" near the park's boat ramp for two hours each during operation, awaiting an amphibious pickup, according to the access agreement approved by York County Council on Tuesday.
"Our Marines will look like normal campgoers utilizing the lake at night."
Capt. Barry Morris, spokesman for Marine Corps Special Operations Command
The agreement allows for the "temporary storage of vehicles and equipment" in the park, and the Marines will likely be using "small fishing boats, similar to a standard Jon Boat or something similar to cross the lake," Morris said.
Ebenezer Park closes to the public at dusk, but overnight camping is allowed at the 26-acre park off Mount Gallant Road, so some parkgoers may share Ebenezer with the Marines overnight. Officials don't expect that to be a problem.
"At this time of year, it's typically not as populated," Harmon said. "Plus, (any campers) would be in a different area of the park."
If any campers are signed up to use the park that night, Harmon said the county will notify them of who else has rented out a portion of Ebenezer for the night.
"This training will have minimal to no impact on any patrons who may be visiting the park," he said, adding the Marine Corps is coordinating its use of the park with local officials, law enforcement officers and emergency responders.
Marines promise in the access agreement that "the boat ramp and surrounding area will be left in the condition it was occupied in initially," with no debris or trash left behind.
So when the Marines move out in the early morning hours of Feb. 18, the only trace of the Ebenezer Park operation will be in the minds of some curious campers.