Camp Hale’s facelift
More than 60 years after the American War Department claimed Forest Service land along the upper forks of the Eagle River, the Holy Cross Forest District wants to restore the stream, restore wetlands and recreate a productive habitat.
Yet Forest Service officials also understand that Camp Hale plays an important role in the history of the valley and the region. Many of ski country’s founding fathers, including Vail’s Pete Seibert, trained at Camp Hale and returned after WWII to help the Colorado ski industry become what it is today.
The Forest District has the difficult task of restoring the natural wetlands while still leaving the main part of Camp Hale as a memorial to soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division. The camp, which is located between Minturn and Leadville on Highway 24, has been used for recent special operations training, and hosted Tibetan freedom fighters between 1958 and 1961 (see “Battle-ready warriors return to Camp Hale,” at vailtrail.com, Jan. 17, 2003 edition).
Holy Cross District Ranger Cal Wettstein said Camp Hale is often regarded as untouchable historic land, which may complicate the restoration process.
“Camp Hale is on the National Register of Historic Places, so we have to be pretty careful of what we do in there. There’s always a trade-off. It’s a pretty complex situation.”
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The Holy Cross Forest District is currently conducting environmental analysis with the help of the Eagle River Watershed and seeking public comment before finalizing plans.
“A project at Camp Hale is supported far more than any other (projects),” said Tom Page, Project Manager at the Eagle River Watershed Council.
Page emphasized that restoring the river at Camp Hale would be much more than an ecological project.
“To be able to incorporate a lot of issues within the community, being able to blend all the things together, like recreation and the historic aspects… is unique,” he said.
Earl Clark, chairman of the 10th Mountain Division Foundation board, said his organization is among those who support the proposed plan to restore the river, the east fork of the Eagle in particular. Clark, who served as a lieutenant at Camp Hale, would like to see the west fork, where the barracks are located, left untouched for now.
Restoring just a part of the river would be enough to suppress erosion problems and reduce the amount of sediment flowing downstream, according to the Forest Service.
“Working around the historic sites will still gain a ton of habitat and wetlands,” said Forest Service biologist Brian Healy.
Fish and other water-based wildlife have the biggest problem with a straight stream, he said.
“They don’t have the habitat they (would) have in diverse rivers,” he said, adding that the ponds and ripples created by a natural stream flow are essential for healthy fish.
Another problem, according to Healy, is the reduction of a flood plane in the area. Without a flood plane, sediments have nowhere to go and can cause problems farther downstream.
Forest Service officials are hopeful that the restoration would benefit all of Hale’s surrounding communities.
“If you’re a fisherman, the trout productivity would be incredible, and you’d still have the historic aspects to look at,” Healy said.
In 2002, visits to Camp Hale subsided when the Forest Service had to close some areas because of a dangerous amount of unexploded weapons, such as grenades and mortars, still in the area. The restoration, supporters say, could help Hale’s recreation opportunities explode.
Greg Caretto of Nova Guides, which owns an outfitting operation at Camp Hale, said his company has never had problems with unexploded ordinance. Nova also fully supports the restoration project.
“If they do it the way Mother Nature designed,” he said, “it would be a great thing.” VT
” Chris Black is a frequent contributor to the Vail Trail and can be reached for comment at email@example.com.