DENVER — President Joe Biden signed a proclamation Wednesday designating Camp Hale and the area of the Continental Divide that surrounds it as a national monument, and his administration moved to protect 225,000 acres of the Thompson Divide from mining and oil and gas production.
Wednesday’s proclamation has been expected since last week, when sources first confirmed Biden would be making Camp Hale – where soldiers trained to fight in the Alps during WWII – a national monument.
The moves announced Wednesday include designating 53,804 acres including Camp Hale and the surrounding Tenmile Range as a national monument that will be managed by the U.S. Forest Service, which will develop a plan to protect and manage the land and the historical significance of the area, the White House said.
The Interior Department and U.S. Department of Agriculture is also proposing a 20-year withdrawal of 225,000 acres in the Thompson Divide area that would, if approved, prohibit any new mining claims or new mineral leases in the area.
There already has not been any new oil and gas leasing in the area, and there is no planned exploration in the area. Pre-existing gas leases would not be affected, the White House said.
Biden’s proclamation was made under the Antiquities Act, which Biden also used to restore protections for three other national monuments last year.
The Biden administration said it was also opening up Inflation Reduction Act funds to put toward drought mitigation in the Colorado River system.
Several of the new moves are part of the CORE Act that has been pushed by Sen. Michael Bennet, Rep. Joe Neguse, and local leaders for years as the seek to enshrine the legacy of the 15,000 soldiers who trained in high-mountain and cold and snowy conditions in order to fight the Axis forces in the Alps during WWII.
The president arrived at the Eagle County Regional Airport just before noon Wednesday and will travel to Camp Hale and speak about designating the Camp Hale – Continental Divide National Monument, the first national monument Biden has designated as president.
The president spoke about the designation alongside Bennet, Neguse, Gov. Jared Polis, Sen. John Hickenlooper, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, who all lauded the new national monument designation.
Polis praised the 10th Mountain Division veterans, some of whom also helped found the state’s ski and snow sports industries, who pushed so hard to make the stories Army training site a national monument over the years. He said the designation helps link Colorado’s public lands, history and the West’s future.
“As a long-time supporter of honoring our veterans and preserving these lands, I know firsthand that there is significant and strong local support for this designation to preserve our public lands so I applaud President Biden for taking this action,” Polis said. “This is a big win for Colorado public lands, and outdoor recreation and ensures the important history of camp Hale and the 10th Mountain Division will be honored for future generations.”
Biden told the hundreds gathered at Camp Hale how much the pressure from Bennet and others had led to the national monument designation: “[Bennet] came to the White House and said, ‘I told you what I need,’” Biden said. “I said I’ll do it. You know why – otherwise you’ll never leave the damn White House.”
Biden honored the Ute tribal leaders who joined Wednesday’s ceremony and the land they have been stewards of for generations, forced out by American settlers, and acknowledged “the history of violence committed against them.”
And he praised the 10th Mountain Division soldiers who daringly trained in Camp Hale’s striking mountains too successfully push through Nazi lines in the Italian Alps.
Bennet called Wednesday “a historic day for Colorado” and spoke about his decade-plus of learning from those veterans and their families about how much Camp Hale means to them because of their training for the war and what followed.
"With this designation, Mr. President, you offer [the service of the veterans of the 10th Mountain Division] the dignity of public remembrance. You safeguard this place and its history, not only for them, but for America. And you ensure that, years from now, we can bring our grandkids here and tell them the story of the 10th Mountain Division and their contributions — not only to Colorado, but to humanity. And for that, Mr. President, Colorado will be forever grateful.”
Hickenlooper, who was Colorado’s governor when Bennet’s CORE Act push first started, praised his fellow senator and his work to get to Wednesday’s decision. And Neguse told the story of Sandy Treat, the late 10th Mountain Division veteran who first told Neguse of his hope that Camp Hale could be enshrined in history.
“Today, we made good. The president made good. Sen. Bennet, Hickenlooper and Gov. Polis made good on the promise to Sandy,” Neguse said. “That this land is valued and the service of the 10th Mountain Division will never, never be forgotten.”
Democrats Bennet, Neguse, Gov. Jared Polis and Sen. John Hickenlooper visited Camp Hale earlier this summer with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, after which the group sent a letter to Biden calling on him to use the Antiquities Act or other executive actions to implement pieces of the CORE Act, including those announced Wednesday.
The Tenmile Range area has been the longtime home of the Ute Tribes, who were pushed out of the area during the mining boom.
Camp Hale briefly became a prisoner of war camp at the end of the war, and many of the soldiers who trained at Camp Hale came back to Colorado to form the state’s ski industry, now worth billions of dollars a year to Colorado and the nation’s economy.
“This designation will permanently protect Camp Hale and the Tenmile Range, the iconic site where the 10th Mountain Division trained to fight in World War II and later returned to found much of Colorado’s ski industry. 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,” Bennet said in a statement.
“This designation and the administration’s efforts to protect the Thompson Divide enjoy broad, bipartisan support from Coloradans, and testify to the hard work of local leaders and groups, who have worked for years to preserve this vital part of our history and our landscapes,” added Bennet, who is up for reelection in November. “I am grateful to President Biden for answering Colorado’s call to honor our veterans, safeguard our wildlife and public lands, and strengthen our outdoor recreation economy.”
Neguse called the announcement the product of years of work by veterans, local leaders, and those in congress and said he could not be more excited and grateful that the Biden administration agreed to move on Camp Hale.
“It really is the quintessential Colorado story, right? And it’s the confluence of the service and sacrifice of so many Coloradans during World War II. It’s the innovative spirit that they then brought to the work that they performed in terms of creating the modern ski and snow sports industry,” he said in an interview. “It’s the preservation of public lands, which are really part of every Coloradan, right? It’s sort of core to our ethos as Coloradans, as is the protection of the outdoor recreation opportunities and the ability to be able to hike and fish and recreate in these incredible public lands that we hold in trust for future generations of Coloradans to enjoy.”
“As the daughter of a medic who trained at Camp Hale, I know how meaningful this national monument designation is to the families of the 10th Mountain Division soldiers,” said Nancy Kramer, the 10th Mountain Division Foundation president. “We’re so grateful that their legacies will be preserved in this landscape for future generations to learn from and enjoy.”
Hickenlooper lauded the move and Bennet’s push on the CORE Act, which the lawmakers said they would continue to push to pass.
“Camp Hale is being protected thanks to the efforts of 10th mountain Division veterans and local Coloradans who want to see these historic, breathtaking lands protected for generations to come,” Hickenlooper said. “From the beginning, Senator Bennet’s CORE Act has been about helping communities protect their public lands. Today’s designation continues that effort.”
The bill has already passed the U.S. House on several occasions – in October 2019, again in 2020 and 2021 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, and again in February 2021 as part of a public lands package.
“A coalition of hunters, ranchers, farmers, outdoor enthusiasts and community leaders have worked for decades to ensure the Thompson Divide area is protected,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “Today the Biden-Harris administration is taking an important and sensible step to ensure that we have the science and public input necessary to make informed decisions about sustainable management of public lands in the Thompson Divide area.”
The designation of Camp Hale and move to stop mining and oil and gas production on the Thompson Divide was lauded by town, city, and county officials from across the area.
“For Coloradans and for all Americans, these are the sources of our clean air and pure water, and they are the wellspring of our inspiration, identity and history. These iconic areas are most worthy of conservation,” said Greg Poschman, a Pitkin County commissioner and descendant of a 10th Mountain Division soldier. “We thank President Biden for taking action to protect this important place. We also ask President Biden to go ‘all in’ for all the public lands designations in the CORE Act on which we have all worked so hard for the past decade.”