Meet Your Forest: Camp Hale’s return to glory through restoration
Meet Your Forest
Camp Hale is a major all-season recreational destination in the White River National Forest. Camp Hale is nestled in the high-elevation headwaters of the Eagle River, a prominent tributary of the upper Colorado River, running along the Western Slope of the Continental Divide in central Colorado between Leadville and Red Cliff. These waters provide a home to wildlife such as elk, bear, lynx, pica, pine marten, marmot, otter, trout, white-tailed ptarmigan, Rosie finches, migratory songbirds and waterfowl.
History of Camp Hale
The Camp Hale area has a long and varied history in the region. In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt established the Holy Cross Forest Reserve, which would become the White River National Forest in 1922.
Camp Hale was set up at the Eagle River headwaters in 1942, during World War II. More than 240,000 acres were transformed into a winter and mountain warfare training camp, which housed 17,000 troops. Camp Hale’s elevation of 9,200 feet was chosen because the natural setting included large, flat wetland meadows encircled by steep slopes suitable for training in skiing, rock climbing and winter survival skills. This terrain mimicked much of the European landscape soldiers would end up fighting in during their deployment.
When the Army created Camp Hale, the wetland meadows were drained, a sewage system was installed, millions of cubic yards of fill were imported and the East Fork and South Fork of the Eagle River headwaters were channeled into a 3-mile-long concrete ditch system that exists today in the valley floor.
The 10th Mountain Division, 38th Regimental Combat Team, 99th Infantry Battalion and soldiers from Fort Carson were trained at Camp Hale from 1942 to 1965. The Army also held nearly 400 prisoners from Hitler’s expeditionary Afrika Korps there during World War II.
From 1959 through 1965, the Central Intelligence Agency secretly trained Tibetan soldiers at Camp Hale for incursions into China. In 1964, the Camp Hale facilities were deactivated, with control of the lands returned to the U.S. Forest Service. The U.S. military no longer controls the area, but it’s still used for cold weather and mountain training exercises. In 2003, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers started cleanup efforts to remove hazard materials from the area.
Camp Hale Restoration Master Plan
In 2011, Sen. Mark Udall introduced the Camp Hale Study Act to enable its designation as a National Historic Landmark, which led to development of a comprehensive restoration project.
The purpose of the master plan is to develop a collaborative vision for the ecological restoration, recreational usage and historic preservations of this vivid Colorado landscape. The plan addresses five main goals:
• River and aquatic health — Return the Eagle River to conditions that are more akin to their pre-Camp Hale morphology and enhancement of the river’s aquatic habitat.
• Riparian and wetland areas — Restore, enhance and create riparian and wetland areas throughout the valley floor.
• Terrestrial habitat and vegetation — Remove non-native plants, and re-establish native vegetation, as well as more natural, irregular topography throughout the valley floor.
• Recreation opportunities — Maintain and improve all existing summer and winter recreational opportunities in the Camp Hale and Eagle River headwaters area.
• Historic preservation and interpretation — Honor the history of the project area by preserving existing structures and relics and developing a comprehensive interpretive plan.
The Camp Hale restoration project is unique in that it will retain a page from our history while presenting a new vision for the ecological future of this vital watershed system in the White River National Forest.
Jasmine Hupcey is the office and volunteer manager for Friends of the Dillon Ranger District. She can be reached at jasmine@ fdrd.org. For more information on the organization and volunteer opportunities, visit http://www.fdrd.org.
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