Camp Hale: A chance to honor Colorado’s historic site with the protection it deserves

Brent Flanders via Flickr | Used by permission

President Joe Biden has an opportunity to make progress toward his goal of protecting 30% of America’s land by designating the first national monument of his administration. Camp Hale is nestled into the Rocky Mountains, just 15 miles from Leadville, Colorado. The former army base, managed by the  U.S. Forest Service, is well known by Coloradans for its stunning hikes and rugged snowsports terrain. In addition to outdoor recreationists, Camp Hale is visited by elk, bear, lynx, migratory songbirds and many more animals. These creatures thrive amid stunning vistas and some of the tallest peaks in the United States. But Camp Hale is known for more than its beauty – the army’s 10th Mountain Division trained at Camp Hale between 1942 and 1945.

After training at 9,200 feet, the soldiers of the 10th Division were sent to the Apennine Mountains in Italy, where they fought the battle of Riva Ridge. In the dramatic battle, memorialized by Hollywood, the 10th Mountain Division troops scaled what was considered an “unclimbable” mountain face in the dark – surprising sleeping German soldiers. The ensuing battle was a victory for Allied forces. The 10th Mountain Division spent the following months pushing through the Apennine Mountains, forcing Axis forces to retreat, freeing Italian towns from German occupation and capturing strategic positions. This bravery cost the division 1,000 lives and nearly 4,000 injuries and it was only possible because the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division were highly skilled in mountaineering, rock climbing, skiing and surviving vicious winter conditions.

Photo by Bret Flanders via Flickr | Used by permission

Rock Climbing at Camp Hale. Brent Flanders via Flickr 

Photo by Brent Flanders via Flickr | Used by permission

Camp Hale historic structures. Brent Flanders via Flickr.

The legacy of Camp Hale didn’t end with WWII. Influenced by their experience at Camp Hale, many veterans of the 10th Mountain Division returned to Colorado and founded the ski industry as we know it today. Ski areas that attract millions of visitors to Colorado each year, including Vail Mountain, Arapahoe Basin and Aspen Mountain, were founded by the 10th Mountain Division Veterans.

Today, Camp Hale is part of the White River National Forest and in 1992 it was designated as a Historic Landmark. However, being located in a national forest doesn’t necessarily protect land from damaging industrial activities, such as oil and gas drilling, logging, mining or grazing. Being a Historic Landmark provides a site with federal funding and recognition, but does little for protecting the surrounding environment, which in the case of Camp Hale, is much of what makes the site remarkable. To honor the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division and protect Camp Hale’s ecology and recreational uses, the area needs greater protection.

Coalitions of county commissioners, hunters, anglers, mayors, conservation nonprofits, veterans, business owners and even the governor of Colorado have attempted to protect and distinguish Camp Hale by designating it as the nation’s first ever National Historic Landscape. This would provide funding for the preservation and restoration of the landscape, and secure the site’s ecological and historic qualities. Designating Camp Hale as a National Historic Landscape is a prominent aspect of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Act (CORE), sponsored by Sen. Bennet and Rep. Neguse since its introduction in 2019. Despite passing the House of Representatives five times, the CORE act has failed to pass the Senate.

Fortunately, there is another avenue for Camp Hale to receive the protection it deserves. Using the Antiquities Act, President Biden can declare Camp Hale a National Monument – memorializing the role Colorado’s stunning Rocky Mountains played in defeating fascism during WWII, and forever honoring the veterans who risked and lost their lives. The president should act quickly to create this monument and secure more nature for Colorado.

Brent Flanders via Flickr | Used by permission

Sammy Herdman

Campaign Associate

Ellen Montgomery

Director, Public Lands Campaign, Environment America

Ellen runs campaigns to protect America's beautiful places, from local beachfronts to remote mountain peaks. Prior to her current role, Ellen worked as the organizing director for Environment America’s Climate Defenders campaign. Ellen lives in Denver, where she likes to hike in Colorado's mountains.

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