Advocates working to make 10th Mountain Division birthplace America’s first National Historical Landscape | VailDaily.com

Advocates working to make 10th Mountain Division birthplace America’s first National Historical Landscape

CAMP HALE — The birthplace of the famed 10th Mountain Division is also the birthplace of Colorado's outdoor recreation industry, and state Sen. Michael Bennet wants it protected. Bennet is pushing hard to have Camp Hale declared the nation's first National Historic Landscape.

Bennet aide Noah Koerper said the senator intends to move quickly.

"We want to get this bill done soon, but we want to get it right and that's the priority," Koerper said.

The plan is to designate Camp Hale as America's first National Historic Landscape as part of Boulder Democrat Jared Polis's Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act. Camp Hale is already on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bennet originally announced the idea last Memorial Day during a quick trip to Camp Hale.

Division veteran Sandy Treat was there on Memorial Day, and was also on hand for Saturday's Camp Hale living history event, featuring presentations by the 10th Mountain Division Living History Display group and the 10th Mountain Division Foundation.

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Winning the war, building the peace

Soldiers who trained at Camp Hale helped win some of World War II's most pivotal — and bloody — battles in the northern Italian Alps. The Germans claimed that Riva Ridge could not be taken in the daylight. The Germans were probably right — the front side of the mountain was heavily, and effectively, defended. So on a snowy, dark night in February 1945, thousands of 10th Mountain soldiers climbed the 1,500-foot steep mountainside, taking the difficult, but undefended back way. That victory prevented the Germans from using the peak to observe U.S. forces below.

That victory was short-lived, and the next day the division's three regiments joined a successful assault on nearby Mount Belvedere. Hundreds of 10th Mountain soldiers died in the battle.

Many 10th Mountain Division soldiers returned home and built ski areas including Vail and Beaver Creek, Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, Steamboat Springs and Aspen, along with an estimated 60 other ski areas around the country.

Among the 10th Mountain veterans are Vail founder Pete Seibert, Colorado Ski Hall of Famer Earl Clark, Aspen Ski School co-founders Freidl Pfeifer and John Litchfield and Colorado Ski Country USA co-founder Bob Parker.

After the war, the Army flooded the U.S. with hundreds of thousands of pairs of affordable military surplus skis, down sleeping bags, backpacks and outdoor gear, giving rise to an outdoor recreation industry that changed the economy and face of Colorado and other states.

Working to honor the 10th

State Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, announced plans to support Bennet's bill in the state legislature by creating a Resolution of Support. She said she intends to send a signal to Washington that Colorado broadly supports this effort.

Along with designating Camp Hale as America's first National Historic Landscape, Polis' wilderness bill's aims include:

• Create three new wilderness areas, 54,492 acres in Summit and Eagle counties in the White River National Forest.

• Create five additions to existing wilderness areas: Eagle's Nest, Holy Cross and Ptarmigan wilderness areas.

"We have been working very hard to gather input, generate compromises and find creative ways to preserve recreation while protecting the wild values of the lands in this proposal," said wilderness advocate Susie Kincade, who has worked tirelessly on this project. "The addition of Camp Hale National Historic Landscape is a wonderful way to enhance the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act, while protecting this historic area for future generations. The designation will maintain the recreational activities that go on there, and protect a critical wildlife migration corridor as well as the headwaters of the Eagle River. The Camp Hale addition is a win-win for everyone and will help make the overall bill legacy legislation."

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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