President Joe Biden was joined by Colorado Governor Jared Polis, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack and U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) in Colorado on Wednesday, October 12, 2022, to sign the Bill that would designate Camp Hale, a World War II training ground for troops being shipped to fight in the Italian Alps, as a new National Monument– Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument. The 84-square-mile Camp Hale includes the Continental Divide in its designation. Some news reports call it a “National Historic Landscape.”
The U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division trained at Camp Hale, Colorado, in snowy winter mountains. You can see more about them at the Ski Museum in Vail, (see photo) and also buy souvenirs there. They also have a film of modern men recreating the military exercises and wearing the snow outfits that the men wore.
For over a decade, Colorado’s mountain and rural communities, small businesses, recreation groups, ranchers, and conservationists have worked together in an effort to protect our public lands, honor the legacy of Camp Hale and secure outdoor recreation opportunities. Bennet and then-Colorado U.S. Representative Jared Polis introduced the Continental Divide and Preserve Camp Hale Legacy Act in 2018; and in 2019, Bennet and Neguse introduced the CORE Act, which combined four Colorado public lands proposals, building on longstanding efforts to protect public lands by establishing new wilderness, recreation, and conservation areas, including protections for Camp Hale, the Tenmile Range, and the Thompson Divide.
“When I first met with veterans of Camp Hale and supporters of this designation, I was so moved by their passion for preserving Camp Hale, and the sprawling public lands that surround it,” said Sen. Leguse.
In August, Sen. Bennet led U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on a tour of Camp Hale and met with supporters of the CORE Act. Following this visit, Bennet, Neguse, Hickenlooper and Polis urged President Biden to use his Presidential authorities, including the Antiquities Act, to protect the landscapes included in the CORE Act. Bennet delivered dozens and dozens of letters from Coloradans to the president in support of the designation.
“Despite broad support for the CORE Act — from local officials, environmental groups, ranchers, veterans, and small business owners — partisan gridlock has kept it from passing the Senate (even though it has passed the House five times),” said Sen. Bennet. “As Congress dithered, fewer 10th Mountain veterans remained each year to advocate for protecting Camp Hale and its history. Colorado couldn’t wait any longer, so we called on the president to use his executive authority to protect the site, honor the 10th Mountain veterans, and ensure their stories are never forgotten”.
Camp Hale’s story as a vital part of our history. During the Second World War, 15,000 recruits came to Camp Hale by train from across the country to form the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division. Some had never seen snow before. Others had never been in the mountains. But over two years of intense training, they became the world’s most capable mountain soldiers. The skills they learned at Camp Hale — skiing, rappelling, mountaineering — changed the course of history.
In 1945, Axis forces held the high ground in the Apennine mountains of northern Italy, blocking the Allied advance. Every effort to break the German line had failed — until the 10th Mountain Division arrived. At Riva Ridge, 10th Mountain soldiers drew on the skills honed at Camp Hale to dislodge Axis forces and clear the way for Allied victory in Europe.
After the war, many 10th Mountain veterans returned to Colorado to build our ski and outdoor industries — at Vail, Aspen, Breckenridge, and Steamboat — drawing not only on their expert skills, but the surplus equipment after the war. It’s why some consider Camp Hale the birthplace of Colorado’s $10 billion outdoor recreation economy. In the years since, 10th Mountain veterans have been some of the most influential advocates for our public lands.
One of those veterans was Sanford “Sandy” Morris Treat, Jr. After serving in combat, Sandy took up the fight to preserve Camp Hale. Before his death, Sandy’s activism helped inspire the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act, our bill to protect over 400,000 acres of Colorado public lands — including the iconic landscapes surrounding Camp Hale. Although Sandy passed away last year, his memory and legacy will live on in the scenic overlook named in his honor.
Some of these details were provided by Sen. Neguse and Sen Bennet.