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Camp Hale national monument turns a year old as a plan to honor Utes, 10th Mountain vets takes shape

Initial plans for the state’s newest national monument at Camp Hale include celebrating the history of Utes, World War II soldiers and outdoor recreation atop Tennessee Pass
President Joe Biden hands over the pen to Frank Lovette, far right, after signing the papers to designate Camp Hale, a World War II era training site, as a national monument, Oct. 12, 2022, at Camp Hale outside Leadville. Lovett trained at Camp Hale as a soldier. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Frank Lovett has a vision for Camp Hale, where in 1942 he trained for winter battle in Italy as a 10th Mountain Division soldier.

“It must include recognition, physical recognition, by signage, astute building and careful management so it does not become a scrappy trailer park. It must not become a tourist attraction,” the 101-year-old decorated World War II veteran and lifelong educator told a committee of politicians and tribal leaders last weekend in Vail following a visit to Camp Hale. “It must be aimed to inform the public who may stop by and see how we lived and what we lived, with good signage … that reflects the history of the 10th Mountain Division. All I hope for is true history. Shared history.”

A year after President Joe Biden traveled to Colorado to announce the Camp Hale – Continental Divide National Monument, a plan is taking shape for the historic location.

It won’t offer a lot of tourist amenities. There won’t be a sprawling visitor center. There will be a lot of signs helping to educate visitors about the 53,804-acre monument, Colorado’s ninth national monument and its first since Browns Canyon in 2015. The idea is to create a place to learn and remember. A monument that celebrates the Ute tribes that have gathered in the headwaters of the Eagle River atop Tennessee Pass for centuries as well as the 10th Mountain Division soldiers who trained there during World War II and returned to Colorado to seed the country’s vibrant outdoor recreation industry.

Ute Mountain Ute tribal chairman Manuel Heart offered a blessing and prayer last Saturday as Forest Service officials joined federal, state and local leaders in unveiling the new national monument sign.

Heart urged the politicians and Forest Service to “erect something to not forget the Ute people, some kind of monument.”

“We just ask respectfully, don’t forget us as the Ute people who come from these lands … that were taken from us at one time,” Heart said. “And educate people, educate people about who we are.”

Colorado’s U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse – a Democrat from Boulder who supported the national monument designation – said collaboration will be needed for “keeping the stories of Camp Hale alive and making the case that this incredible part of Colorado history, American history, needed to be preserved.”

“There’s a lot of work to be done and we know this next stage will be just as important as all the stages that preceded it,” Neguse said.

Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat and longtime champion of protecting Camp Hale, said “learning where we’ve been and heading into the future in a collaborative way … is the opportunity for a better future.”

The White River National Forest is launching a planning process that will take a couple years. There will be public meetings, site visits and formal comment periods so everyone can vet the plan for Camp Hale.

“This is just the beginning of a very involved process,” said Adam Bianchi, the district ranger for the White River National Forest’s Dillon Ranger District, the most trafficked district in the country inside the most visited national forest.

The forest is a decade into planning a long term restoration project in the headwaters of the Eagle River, which include Camp Hale. The river was straightened to accommodate a warfare training camp for 17,000 soldiers in the early 1940s. Restoring the river to a more natural state while honoring the legacy of the training ground will require a balancing of cultural, ecological and historical interests, Bianchi said.

And the White River also will soon begin a revision of its overarching forest plan, setting a framework to manage the 2.3 million-acre forest – and its 11 major ski areas, eight wilderness areas, four reservoirs and 12 million annual visitors – for the next 20 years. And one last challenge: The designation of the new national monument did not come with any additional funds for the White River, which has a budget of around $18 million a year, down from more than $30 million in the late 2000s.

The proclamation that created Camp Hale recognizes “ongoing use of the area for recreation” – noting skiing, hiking, camping and snowmobiling – while urging a management plan that includes “education and interpretive resources” that reflect the area’s Indigenous history and 10th Mountain legacy “while maintaining space for the area’s growing recreation economy.”

The overlapping planning process for the monument and the entire forest will give forest managers the opportunity, Bianchi said, to “protect areas as best we can and not make it a tourist destination.”

Maybe that will include directing visitors to areas outside the heart of the monument, like on Summit County’s Continental Divide side of the monument in the Tenmile Range, where improved trailheads and access can accommodate more users, Bianchi said.

“Creating this giant mecca for more tourists to come here, that’s not necessarily something that we have in the books, because, financially, we just don’t have that,” he said after the tour earlier this month. “We want to take this plan and do it correctly with our partners – tribes as well as veterans. At the end of the day, what that may look like is very similar to what they saw today.”

Lovett urged the politicians, tribal members and Forest Service to treat Camp Hale “wisely, kindly and selflessly.”

“When we are all gone, the very patient land will still be here,” said Lovett, who laughed when he asked that the pitons he hammered into the sheer rock faces around his former camp remain in place. “We are just temporary renters who better pay attention to history.”

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