EAGLE COUNTY — President Joe Biden will be in Eagle County, Colorado today to designate Camp Hale, a World War II training ground, as a national monument.
According to the President's calendar, he'll arrive in Vail around noon to make remarks "on protecting and conserving America’s iconic outdoor spaces", before heading to Los Angeles.
Camp Hale is near Leadville, which is two hours west of Denver in the High Country. The Camp Hale - Continental Divide National Monument will cover 53,804 acres and be managed by the US Forest Service.
Additionally, the administration has proposed a mineral withdrawal on the Thompson Divide in Pitkin, Garfield, and Mesa counties. The proposal would "prohibit new mining claims and the issuance of new Federal mineral leases on approximately 225,000 acres in the Thompson Divide area," according to the White House. The area is not open to oil and gas leasing currently.
On the designation for Camp Hale, according to a White House fact sheet, "The rugged landscape of Camp Hale – Continental Divide serves as a testament to a pivotal moment in America’s military history, as these peaks and valleys forged the elite soldiers of the famed 10th Mountain Division — the Army’s first and only mountain infantry division — that helped liberate Europe in World War II. The area lies within the ancestral homelands of the Ute Tribes, along the Continental Divide in north-central Colorado, and is treasured for its historical and spiritual significance, stunning geological features, abundant recreation opportunities, and rare wildlife and plants. The area’s mountains and valleys also shaped our modern outdoor recreation economy, which today supports millions of American jobs."
Making Camp Hale a national monument will protect the site from development. That has been a key priority for Democratic Senator Michael Bennet, who is up for re-election this year.
"At Camp Hale, and in the surrounding mountains including those of the Tenmile Range, soldiers learned winter survival techniques and to snowshoe, to climb, and most famously, to ski. After the war, many of these soldiers would return to the area, lending their training and expertise to a burgeoning ski industry. More than 60 ski areas in the United States, including many of Colorado’s world-famous ski areas, owe their origin and development to these veterans. Today, the outdoor industry, inspired and built by these heroes, generates $374 billion in economic activity and supports tens of thousands of jobs across the country," the White House release states.
News5's Bill Folsom was able to meet with 10th Mountain Division veteran Francis Lovett just a couple of weeks ago to discuss Camp Hale and its importance to our history.
“My God man, you’ve got to protect this place,” said Lovett, now 100 years old.
Colorado has a unique tie to World War II history through the 10th Mountain Division. The specialized alpine combat team trained at the former Camp Hale in the mountains north of Leadville, Colorado.
Lovett came to Camp Hale as a 20-year-old, “It was 1943, I’m now 100, You do the arithmetic.”
Acceptance to the division required a high level of athletic ability in alpine settings. Soldiers had to apply. Lovett said, “Three people who can attest to either his skill as a skier, a climber, or extensive outdoor living.”
He recalls how the Camp Hale experience challenged, and at times humbled, soldiers. “There's something about being part of these natural surroundings. That just makes you better if you survived it, because it's not kind always, but it's always appreciated. Soldiers trained during some harsh Colorado winter conditions."
80 years later, there are only a few remnants of the Camp Hale structures. Recreational climbers work their way up cliffs where the soldiers trained.
There are occasional tours guided by historians and there is concern this could all be lost to time.
“People keep saying well, we won’t worry about it right now. It’ll settle itself out,” said Lovett, “It won’t. You gotta save it.”
The 10th Mountain Division Foundation, Veteran lobbying groups like Vet Voice Foundation, and Colorado political leaders want Camp Hale preserved as a National Monument.
Janessa Goldbeck, the CEO of Vet Voice, said research shows the efforts are also supported by most Colorado residents, “Polling that over 85% of all Coloradans want this to happen.”
"We know about D-Day, we know about Normandy, we know all of those pieces, and we elevate those pieces and honor those pieces. The fact of the matter is, this is an essential part of the story of World War II as well,” said 10th Mountain Division Foundation, President, Nancy Kramer.
Previous attempts to protect Camp Hale included the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act commonly called the CORE Act.
It has stalled multiple times in Congress. Some think it is because it includes so many elements it is hard to get an agreement. For example, it designates multiple other areas of Colorado as wilderness.
“There is a way to protect at least part of hits land through unilateral action via the President and the Antiquities Act,” said Goldbeck.
President Biden has expanded some existing national monuments since taking office, but Camp Hale will be the first one he has created. Those who are against the designation say it could prevent future mining projects.
With the addition of Camp Hale, the Centennial State will now have 9 national monuments:
- Colorado National Monument (Fruita)
- Dinosaur National Monument
- Hovenweep National Monument (Cortez)
- Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (Montezuma and Delores counties)
- Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
- Chimney Rock National Monument (SW of Pagosa Springs)
- Yucca House National Monument (Cortez)
Colorado is also the site of several National Historic Sites and National Parks:
- Amache National Historic Site
- Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site
- Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park
- California National Historic Trail
- Curecanti National Recreation Area
- Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Pony Express National Historic Trail
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site
- Santa Fe National Historic Trail
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