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Our View: Honor vets with Camp Hale monument

Camp Hale and the Tenmile Range, which produced the 10th Mountain Division with alpine soldiers who busted through German lines and changed the course of World War II, are in dire need of sturdier protection.

Camp Hale is included in the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, but CORE stalled in Congress, no matter its bipartisan and public support, and historical, conservation and cultural values. Fortunately, top Colorado Democrats have taken swift, direct action by asking President Joe Biden to designate this special place as the Camp Hale – Continental Divide National Monument under the Antiquities Act.

This would be Biden’s first national monument.

Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, and Gov. Jared Polis and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse were right to prioritize Camp Hale last month. A monument that honors veterans is not only a nod to those who trained at Camp Hale, but in a sense, to all veterans.

Critics say it’s a federal land grab that bars development, including mineral and energy extraction. But Camp Hale is too worthy to leave unprotected. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, but this doesn’t protect it in perpetuity. Camp Hale’s setting is an alpine wonderland. Its landscape is too unique, too precious. Its beauty makes it vulnerable to misuse.

Showing signs of wear, Camp Hale and its surrounding 28,000 acres are threatened by unmanaged recreation, vandalism and irresponsible four-wheeling.

Camp Hale turned out nearly 17,000 soldiers, pushed to limits while training in mountain warfare in high, steep terrain in temperatures that dropped to 30 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, in nearly 3 feet of snow and strong wind, stinging and relentless. Later, when conditions were especially rough in the northern Appenine Mountains of Italy, soldiers there said they weren’t as bad as Camp Hale, about 5,000 feet higher in elevation. Camp Hale’s terrain was colder and more expansive, too.

That training paid off. In February 1945, the division’s first offense included 10 hours of climbing – equal to a day’s work at Camp Hale – toward the Gothic Line battle zone. Soldiers took Riva Ridge, a frozen fingerlike mountain range with snowy peaks and a river below. Next, they began the uphill assault on Monte Belvedere and Monte Gorgolesco. Commandeering German outposts and communications, and controlling mountains gave the division ground control.

To build Camp Hale, a valley was leveled, the Eagle River straightened and white structures constructed. Alongside U.S. Highway 24, the area is visually stunning. Shrubs, grasses and forbs, and forests of aspen, Douglas fir, spruce and lodgepole pine stand below sharp mountain peaks. Naturally, wildlife is abundant. The meadow is a developer’s dream.

The U.S. Forest Service manages most land within Camp Hale’s boundaries. And the Forest Service can trade parcels. It’s happened before. Even if it’s unlikely, the Forest Service could exchange Camp Hale for something else. This might seem outrageous now, but who knows in 20 years?

Like other modern battlefields, Camp Hale has hazardous material dumps and unexploded ordnance. A monument designation would initiate cleanup and remove hazards. It would prohibit future mining, too.

Soldiers from the division built Colorado’s ski industry. But this monument isn’t homage to that. It’s to the power of this place and what the 10th Mountain Division’s success meant around the world.

President Biden, please pick up your favorite pen and designate the Camp Hale – Continental Divide National Monument. It means a lot to a lot of people.