Biden basks in Colorado mountains, creates new Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument


TENNESSEE PASS — President Joe Biden stood at the ruins of a World War II winter warfare training camp high in the Colorado mountains Wednesday, formally designating a new, 84-square-mile Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, and celebrated the wildness of the West.

“You can feel the power of this place,” Biden said, basking in a landscape studded with green pines and golden aspens that he called “sacred,” lauding Ute stewardship across centuries. While addressing a gathering of state and national leaders beneath a cliff, he extolled “soaring peaks, steep canyons, black bears, bald eagles, mountain lions, waterfalls, pristine rivers, alpine lakes and the scent of wildflowers.”

He also spoke about the West broadly, at one point quoting from the late environmental activist and writer Edward Abbey on “the most beautiful place on Earth….many such places” that “every man, every woman carries in heart and mind.” Biden recalled his own family trips skiing – “all those memories that you all understand and take for granted, they are a big deal where I come from” – and hiking in the Grand Canyon, which he called a cathedral.

“It takes your breath away,” Biden said. “I don’t think, until you see some of these things, that you understand how important it is to preserve them.”

This marks Biden’s first wielding of executive power under the 1906 Antiquities Act to establish a new national monument on federally managed public land. He’s used this power previously to expand three existing monuments. His formal designation of 53,804 acres here along Tennessee Pass and headwaters of the Eagle River, all part of the White River National Forest, adds a layer of federal government protection against potential future development. It is expected to boost local efforts that began a decade ago to restore the delicate ecology that was partially destroyed when military leaders established Camp Hale.

Monument status gives veterans of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division who trained here “the dignity of public remembrance,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said. An innovative WW2 unit, the 10th Mountain Division emerged in these mountains when a diverse group of men came together, worked together and then played a key role in a night surprise attack defeating Nazi forces in Europe.

World War II veteran Francis
World War II veteran Francis “Bud” Lovett is cheered after leaving the signing of a proclamation to designate Camp Hale, a World War II training ground, as a new national monument on Oct. 12, 2022. Lovett was part of U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division that trained at Camp Hale in winter conditions similar to the conditions they fought in during WWII in the Italian Alps. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

During his visit, Biden also announced additional protection for a contested 225,000-acre area about 60 miles away west of Carbondale called the Thompson Divide — extending a pause on leasing land for oil and gas drilling. And he announced that, as part of efforts to deal with “the devastating impacts of climate change,” federal Inflation Reduction Act funds will be used in the West to improve efficiency in the use of water from the Colorado River, a shrinking source tapped by 40 million people in seven states and Mexico.

Colorado’s Sens. Bennet and John Hickenlooper, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Rep. Joe Neguse, Gov. Jared Polis and White House Council on Environmental Quality director Brenda Mallory joined Biden at Camp Hale, where a crowd of more than 200 included surviving war veterans, conservationists, Ute tribal elders and local political leaders.

Bennet for years has pushed for passage in Congress of the Colorado Outdoors Recreation Economy Act, which would help protect 400,000 acres in western Colorado, including land around Camp Hale. But that legislation, guided by Neguse and others through the House, hasn’t won Senate approval. Hickenlooper told the crowd “we’re going to get it done this coming year.” In August, he and Bennet, who faces a political challenge from Republican candidate Joe O’Dea, met with Vilsack at Camp Hale. Vilsack committed to urge Biden to consider using his executive power to create the monument. Bennet followed up, lobbying at the White House.

Presidents under the Antiquities Act have designated 129 national monuments around the country. In Colorado, those include the Brown’s Canyon, Canyons of the Ancients, Dinosaur, and Yucca House sites.

Camp Hale, a World War II ...
Camp Hale, a World War II training ground near Leadville, is the newest national monument after President Joe Biden officially signed the designation on Oct. 12, 2022. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

At Camp Hale, all that remains of a military base that covered 1,500 acres with 245 barracks housing up to 15,000 soldiers and support staff are concrete foundations of an ammunition depot, field house, and firing range.

Since 2013, the National Forest Foundation and other groups have been working to restore wetlands and streams around Camp Hale and also to commemorate the military history. Building the base required flattening and draining wetlands. Military engineers rerouted meandering Eagle River headwaters into a straight ditch. This erased pools. Native willows disappeared, replaced by invasive yellow toadflax and thistles. Water temperatures spiked, hurting fish, and as stream banks eroded the wildlife diversity in the area diminished, from stone flies on up the food chain to predators.

The land long has served as a popular base for hiking, camping, skiing, hunting, animal watching and riding around in off-road motorized vehicles.


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