More munitions destroyed at Camp Hale | VailDaily.com
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More munitions destroyed at Camp Hale

Cliff Thompson

It’s the seventh time in two years explosive devices have been discovered and destroyed on-site.

The latest, a 3.5-inch anti-tank rocket, was found near the East Fork of the Eagle River at an access road.

It’s the second munitions discovery in the area in two weeks and has resulted in the U.S. Forest Service enlarging a closure of Camp Hale to public access.

“We had several hunter camps in the closed area,” said Holy Cross District Ranger Cal Wettstein. “People are not paying attention to the closure signs.”

Last week, two rifle grenades and an armor-piercing charge were destroyed.

The Army’s 250,000-acre Camp Hale training facility was given to the Forest Service in 1965 after it was deactivated. From 1941 to 1945, as many as 15,000 soldiers of the elite 10th Mountain Division were housed and trained there, firing all manners of weaponry. The remnants of their training now is proving problematic for the Forest Service, the State Health Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, all of which are involved in the cleanup of the munitions

When operating, Camp Hale spanned an area that ran from U.S. Highway 9 in Summit County to Homestake Reservoir to the west, Ski Cooper to the south and the Minturn area to the north.

Camp Hale is now a popular recreation area frequented by campers, hikers, four-wheelers and winter sports enthusiasts. The Colorado and Continental Divide Trails cross it near Tennessee Pass.

As much as 10 percent of the explosive devices used during training were duds; they continue to be discovered, however, as freeze and thaw cycles push the buried ordnance to the surface.

Hunters and munitions searchers last season discovered an anti-tank mine, mortar shells, a bazooka rocket and a 155mm howitzer shell. All were destroyed.

Portions of Camp Hale have been closed to public access until they are thoroughly searched by a special crew and cleared of explosive devices.

The munitions also create other issues. Last summer a wildland fire crew dispatched to extinguish a small lightning fire smoldering near Tennessee Pass discovered some munitions in the area and had to call in munitions experts to snuff the blaze.

Munitions specialists typically detonate old munitions with a spectacular, high-energy blast of plastic explosives that rattles the hills.

Wettstein said the state Health Department will likely request more money from the Army Corps of Engineers to clean up the site, which is one of several dozen nationwide. As such it is subject to congressional funding.

Munitions become unstable as they age, explosive experts say, so anything found in Camp Hale and its surrounding area that resembles war material should not be touched. If you come across anything suspicious, call the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office at 328-8500.

To date there have been no injuries stemming from munitions at Camp Hale.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com.


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