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Biden Designates Camp Hale a National Monument



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Biden Designates Camp Hale a National Monument

By Jeff Blumenfeld

President Joseph R. Biden created his first national monument, and the country’s 130th, in October, protecting for future generations a rugged landscape in the heart of the Rocky Mountains where the legendary 10th Mountain Division trained for Alpine warfare during World War II.

Photo above: President Joe Biden at Camp Hale, with 10th Mountain veterans Robert Scheuer and Bud Lovett (seated right), and (standing, left to right) Sen. Michael Bennet, Ute tribal leaders, Sen. John Hickenlooper and Rep. Joe Neguse.

Biden traveled to Red Cliff, Colorado, for the designation of the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, standing with state officials not far from the ruins of the winter warfare training camp along Tennessee Pass and the headwaters of the Eagle River.

The president arrived at Eagle County Regional Airport on Air Force One, then was transported by motorcade to meet a crowd of about 200 VIPs and media waiting at Camp Hale in a temporary pop-up village that included Secret Service snipers in the hills behind the podium. Tenth Mountain Division Foundation historian David Little believes this is the first visit to Camp Hale by a sitting president.

According to a White House statement, “This action will honor our nation’s veterans, Indigenous people and their legacy by protecting this Colorado landscape, while supporting jobs and America’s outdoor recreation economy.”

The area lies within the ancestral homelands of the Ute tribe and is treasured for its historical and spiritual significance, stunning geological features, abundant recreation opportunities and rare wildlife and plants. “This is the story of America the beautiful,” Biden said before signing the declaration next to two of the few surviving veterans of the division, Robert Scheuer and Francis “Bud” Lovett. “You can just feel the power of this place,” Biden added, recalling the days when his family traveled to ski in Colorado. “It takes your breath away.”

Said Sen. Michael Bennet, one of the Colorado Democrats who pushed for the designation, “With every passing year, there are fewer World War II veterans who trained at Camp Hale left to tell their story, which is why it is so important that we protect this site now.”

The winter conditions were so tough that some of the soldiers nicknamed the area “Camp Hell.” All that remains of a military base that covered 1,500 acres with 245 barracks housing up to 15,000 soldiers and staff are crumbling foundations of an ammunition depot, field house and firing range.

In 1987, the National Association of the 10th Mountain Division designated the Denver Public Library and the Colorado Historical Society as joint repositories of its historical materials. The Colorado Snowsports Museum, based in Vail, hosts the largest 10th Mountain public exhibition in the U.S.

“This is a great day for the 10th who trained there, outdoor recreation and the Ute tribe,” said Denise Taylor, president of the 10th Mountain Division Descendants. Added Ellen McWade, Rocky Mountain chapter director of the 10th Mountain Descendants, “Becoming a national monument is a huge deal for us. It will help keep the history of Camp Hale alive and prevent their memories from disappearing.”

The 10th Mountain Division played a pivotal role in the European theater of the war by weakening Axis forces from their position in the Italian Alps, thanks to training acquired at Camp Hale. Scaling a 1,500-foot cliff during a night attack, they were able to push back elite units of the Axis forces. Their skills and grit were instrumental in the war effort. (See page 22 for a story about the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment training on Mt. Rainier.)

After the war, many of these soldiers returned to the mountains, lending their training and expertise to a burgeoning ski industry. More than 60 ski areas in the United States owe their origin and development to these veterans. Today, the outdoor industry, inspired and built by these vets, generates $374 billion in economic activity and supports tens of thousands of jobs across the country, according to the White House. 

ISHA Vice President Jeff Blumenfeld, a resident of Boulder, Colorado, is son-in-law of the late U.S. Army veteran Arnold R. Kirbach, who taught skiing and rock climbing at Camp Hale.


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