Push made to erase Army’s impacts | VailDaily.com

Push made to erase Army’s impacts

Allen Best

CAMP HALE – Located in Eagle Park, between Red Cliff and Tennessee Pass, the Camp Hale was the training ground for 13,000 soldiers during the World War II, most of them members of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. It also was a holding camp for German prisoners of war. To accommodate the base, the valley floor was leveled, wetlands areas covered, and the winding Eagle River was straightened, shortened by approximately half.Mark Weinhold, a Glenwood Springs-based U.S. Forest Service hydrologist, said $1 million is being made available to the 13 forests in Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota. The White River National Forest, where Camp Hale is located, plans to propose a small project, starting at either the top or the bottom of the park.Restoration in the past has been opposed by one organization representing 10th Mountain Division veterans who want hat remains of the army base kept intact for its historical legacy.What Weinhold says is now being envisioned is no all-or-nothing proposition. “It would not affect the entire valley,” he said. “In a valley of that size, I certainly think there’s a way to have your cake and eat it, too.”Wetlands idealHowever, Weinhold cautioned funding for even a small project is by no means a given. First, the project will compete with many other proposals. And second, not “everybody has bought off on this,” he added, alluding to the veteran’s organization.Cal Wettstein, head forest ranger in Eagle County, also said consensus has not been achieved, but he’s confident it can be. “I am optimistic we can come up with something with balance between the historic preservation and ecological restoration,” he said. An inventory conducted by a team from Colorado State University during the last two years ranks restoration of wetlands in Eagle Park to pre-World War II conditions as one of the best opportunities for ecological restoration in the valley. It is, moreover, a place where there will be a lot of bang for the buck.”Because it once was wetlands, it won’t be as difficult as trying to create wetlands in areas that never were,” said Caroline Bradford, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, an Avon-based conservation group. Moreover, in rapidly developing places like the lower Eagle River Valley, sites for creation of wetlands are sparse.Wetlands are prized in part because they serve as purifiers for water but also because of the diversity of life that they support. Eighty percent of all species, from aquatic creatures like mayflies to giant mammals like moose, need wetlands during at least part of their lifecycles.Washington MonumentLike Weinhold, Bradford says that ecological restoration need not preclude historic preservation. In fact, historic preservation can be enhanced, she said.For example, Colorado State University landscape architecture students spent significant time last year studying how the story of the 10th Mountain Division and other soldiers at Camp Hale could best be honored. Among the many ideas is one that calls for a wetlands restoration at both the top and bottom ends of the park, but a Washington Monument-type of channel through the central part, with trees lining the river and plaques containing names of soldiers.The 10th Mountain lost about 1,000 soldiers while fighting in Italy in some of the bloodiest combat in the waning days of the war.The inventory and assessment conducted by Colorado State University, which was led by civil engineering professor Brian Bledsoe, also came up with eight other projects where the ecological integrity could be preserved or restored. Among those projects is shoring up of the old mine cribbings in the Eagle River Canyon, also known as Gilman Gorge. Other projects also identified in the study would involve work on the Eagle River at Edwards and at the old gravel pits at Gypsum.Vail, Colorado

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