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Project proposed to restore Camp Hale

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com

See the proposal

Comment on or read the proposed Camp Hale restoration project or comment at the White River National Forest website at http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/fs-usda-pop.php/?project=46121.

Written comments can be submitted by mail to: Scott Fitzwilliams, Forest Supervisor, c/o Matt Grove, Project Leader, PO Box 190, Minturn, CO 81645

Submit in person to: Matt Grove, East Zone Fisheries Biologist, 24747 US Highway 24, Minturn, CO 81645 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., excluding holidays.)

CAMP HALE — Modern visitors to Camp Hale might have had a hard time recognizing the popular recreation area between Red Cliff and Leadville had they seen it in the 1930s.

Today’s Camp Hale features a number of dirt roads leading deeper into National Forest Service land and the abandoned framework of what was once a U.S. Army training facility. But before the Army arrived in the 1940s and completely dredged the plain and rerouted the water into a single ditch, the landscape was vastly different.

“Before, there were 450 acres of wetlands, and once the camp was made, that was reduced to 150 acres,” said Matt Grove, project manager for the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District. “They brought in tons of dirt, so the water table was lowered, or the water was simply filled. Before, the area had highly diverse vegetation, it was an abundant fishery, with lots of wildlife.”

RESTORATION PROJECT

A proposed project would help restore Camp Hale to look a bit more like it did before it had military uses. The project by the U.S. Forest Service, backed by the National Forest Foundation and a large group of stakeholders, could restore up to 350 acres of wetlands, improve riparian areas and even improve some of the recreational amenities in the area.

The project is currently in the 45-day scoping comment period, meaning the public has until April 30 to weigh in on the subject. After that, the Forest Service will analyze the comments and concerns and consider alternatives before drafting an environmental impact report on the project. At the earliest, some form of the project could begin in a year and be completed in phases, Grove said.

“The ability to restore that many acres of wetlands is uncommon and very rare in the state. There’s just not that many areas where we have such an excellent opportunity to do that,” he said.

A better Camp Hale

After Camp Hale was abandoned as a military base, it slowly became both a historical landmark and recreation area. Many visitors stop by U.S. Highway 24 to read the plaques commemorating the 10th Mountain Division, which trained at Camp Hale. Campers come to stay at the campground. There’s a popular rock climbing wall in the plain, and many snowmobilers, fishermen, cyclists, hikers, hut users, tour guiding companies, off-roading vehicles and more use Camp Hale as their starting point.

Grove said the restoration project wouldn’t limit any of the recreational activities and would result in minor changes for users. Most notably, the road that runs along the existing stream would be closed, but visitors can still access all of the amenities via alternate routes.

The plans would not change any of the historical buildings and markers, and the roads would get some improvements, as would parking, campsites and picnic areas, Grove said.

“It shouldn’t change the way we use the land drastically,” he said. “People can expect to find exactly what they use now.”

While there are small pools of water and brown trout that populate Camp Hale now, experts say the environment is a shadow of what it once was. Without proper vegetation, there is little shade, and the water often reaches very high temperatures. The wetland improvements would create a 300-foot-wide floodplain down at the natural water level and allow the stream to meander. New plants would provide more shade and habitat for wildlife.

A new chapter

This is not the first time that ideas have been floated to restore Camp Hale over the years. The project would cost millions, and Grove said the difference this time is that the National Forest Fund has committed to helping raise funds. In addition, a group of almost 50 stakeholders have been talking about the project for the past couple years and many are in support of the restoration.

Steve Pittel, co-owner of Nova Guides, which is located in Camp Hale, said he’s optimistic there’s support for the improvements.

“I think that it will change the landscape for the good,” he said. “(The stakeholders group) has discussed it in detail, and hopefully we did a good a job and everybody will be happy.”

Grove added that the long-term goal for Camp Hale is to help visitors better understand the history of the area as well.

“We want to provide a better interpretation of the story of Camp Hale — what was there before the camp, what was there while Camp Hale was there, and how this is our next chapter of Camp Hale. We want to preserve the history that is important to many people,” he said.

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.


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