A place to remember | VailDaily.com

A place to remember

Cliff Thompson
Camp Hale from Yoder Gulch, summer of 1943, when 16,000 mountain troopers lived here.

Veterans of Camp Hale’s 10th Mountain Division want to establish a living history museum at the abandoned World War II military base south of Red Cliff.

For nearly 25 years, Camp Hale was a training facility for up to 15,000 members of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, an elite special mountain fighting force that saw action in Italy and elsewhere during World War II and elsewhere. Camp Hale was declared a National Historic Site in 1992.

“A lot of history is represented by that valley,” said Earl Clark, senior vice president of the 10th Mountain Foundation and chairman emeritus of the National Association of the 10th Mountain Division.

“It still very precious in the minds of the thousand of people who trained there and gave birth to the ski industry after world War II,” he said. “We decided to take steps to perpetuate it so it would have historical meaning in the minds of people long after we’re gone.”

Clark said the museum and U.S. Forest Service visitor center will consists of two moderately sized buildings near what was one the main gate of Camp Hale.

The 10th Mountain Division Foundation, in partnership with the Forest Service, which manages Camp Hale, has secured a Colorado Historic Fund grant of $18,000 to study the particulars of creating a museum, said Bill Kight, heritage resource manager for the White River National Forest.

The grant is funded by a tax on gambling in Cripple Creek, Central City and Blackhawk, he said. Five separate sites, most of them close to U.S. Highway 24, have been considered.

“We’re trying to get people to understand what happened at Camp Hale and the price people who trained there paid for freedom,” said Kight.

The small museum will be a self-sustaining facility supported by volunteers from various organizations and funded in part by user fees.

Cost of building the facility has not yet been estimated, but Kight guessed it will range from $250,000 to $500,000 using volunteer labor and donations from contractors, he said.

A loop of roads for driving around the abandoned training facility will be created later this summer, with construction of two historically accurate bridges spanning the Eagle River. The bridges will be funded by a $35,000 donation from members of the Compton family, who lost a son in Italy during the war, and by another anonymous $35,000 donation. One of the bridges will be named in memory of Compton.

The museum and small visitor center will be turned over to the Forest Service, Clark said. The summer visitor’s center could also double as a cross-country skiing and snowmobiling center in the winter.

“The men of the 10th Mountain Division had something else in our lives other than the war experience,” said Clark. “We shared a love for the mountains. That was the glue that held this group together.”

The visitor center and the museum will be the final phase of the 10th’s memorialization of the area, said Clark, 82, noting that the war ended 57 years ago and most of the veterans are in their 70s and 80s.

Portions of 128,000-acre Camp Hale remain closed to public access because 60-year-old unexploded munitions from training exercises at the base have been uncovered over the years by successive frost and thaw cycles. Ordnance teams from the Army’s Ft. Carson near Colorado Springs will be clearing and destroying the munitions later this year. They include artillery shells, anti-tank missiles and land mines.

Most of the buildings and bridges at Camp Hale were destroyed by the Army, before it turned the area over to Forest Service management. It was cheaper to destroy them than to maintain them, Clark said.

Clark said 64 North American ski areas were either developed or managed by veterans of the 10th Mountain Division, including Peter Seibert, who founded Vail.

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