Rally for Camp Hale national monument at Colorado Snowsports Museum in Vail includes 100-year-old WWII veteran
Lawmakers, veterans and locals rally in support President Biden designating new national monument
VAIL — As the country celebrated National Public Lands Day on Saturday, the Colorado Snowsports Museum welcomed a host of advocates rallying for the proposed Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument.
Among those advocating for President Joe Biden to designate the new monument was Francis “Bud” Lovett, one of the few surviving veterans of the original 10th Mountain Division, who is now 100.
The division underwent intense training unlike any other in the U.S. military at Camp Hale, with soldiers — who, on average, weighed 128 pounds and measured 5-foot-8 — working up to carrying at least 94 pounds on wooden skis measuring 7 feet, 6 inches long. Soldiers also spent nights out in the freezing cold to prepare them for the harsh conditions that met them in the Italian Alps, where they fought and won heroic battles.
Despite the grueling conditions, Lovett and other 10th Mountain Division members at Camp Hale fell in love with the area. Despite how unforgiving the conditions were for them, respect for the beauty and intensity of their training grounds and the surrounding area blossomed in the hearts of the soldiers.
In Saturday’s press conference, Lovett explained how Camp Hale is forever engrained in his heart, because of both its beauty and the memories he had training there.
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“Since I’ve lost my sight, it has been to me, a joy to be able to remember so many wonderful things that I saw, especially out here,” Lovett said. “I remember I climbed on Homestake and I was there for the first snowfall. I was marveling at the sounds, the birds, I could hear them crow and there were wildflowers still at the edge of where the snow had ceased and that kind of thing, it’s something you cannot forget.”
After serving in WWII, many of Lovett’s comrades who also trained at Camp Hale came back to the mountainous area they fell in love with. Many of them founded the most famous ski resorts in the United States, including Vail. State Rep. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat who is running for Senate District 8, said Saturday that the 10th Mountain Division veterans are to thank for fueling the state’s thriving outdoor recreation economy.
Like Lovett, many of those who are advocating for the protection of the area believe the national monument status of Camp Hale would help preserve the area for recreators, nature lovers, and those who will benefit from being there physically and emotionally.
Bradley Noone, who enlisted in the Army in 2005 and now serves as the outdoors activities liaison for Operation VetFit and volunteers for Sierra Club Military Outdoors and Veterans Expeditions, explained how the legacy of Camp Hale lives on for veterans today. Because of this, Noone thinks establishing the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument is crucial.
“It brings everything full circle, at least for me,” Noone said. “I was involved in the outdoors some growing up, but the military really forced us outside, forced us into the mountains. I had never spent a whole ton of time in the mountains at all. Then once I got out of the military, I was looking for a different way to cope, to heal my wounds of war — both physical and mental. I found the area around Camp Hale and it literally saved my life. So, piling that on top of the historic value, I think (establishing the national monument) is a no-brainer.”
Because the 10th Mountain Division has a longstanding legacy in Vail, veterans like Noone and Lovett, as well as snow sports fans have been encouraging President Biden to designate the land at Camp Hale and the Tenmile Range as a national monument.
The president’s America the Beautiful Initiative aims to conserve 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030, and Camp Hale has been a hotspot for the initialization of that promised protection.
“(The America the Beautiful Initiative) is a challenge to build on the nation’s best conservation traditions to be faithful to principles that reflect the country’s values and to improve the quality of Americans’ lives — now and for decades to come,” the U.S. department of Interior reports.
Recreation and nature are at the heart of Colorado residents’ values, which garnered much support for the initiative alongside the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, which similarly aims to conserve and protect public land throughout the state.
However, on Thursday, U.S. Rep Lauren Boebert, who represents portions of Eagle County in Colorado’s sprawling 3rd District, sent a letter to Biden in opposition to the establishment of the monument.
“While Camp Hale and our servicemembers that were stationed there made important contributions to World War II, we don’t support the efforts of extremist environmentalists who are seeking to hijack this historic place to create a new land designation — a designation that literally does not exist — to prohibit timber harvesting and mining on nearly 30,000 acres of land,” the letter read.
Speakers at Saturday’s rally at the Colorado Snowsports Museum claimed that Boebert’s letter failed to recognize the wide swath of stakeholders across the political and economic spectrum — from conservationists to ranchers and hunters — who have come out in support of the CORE Act, which has passed the House of Representatives five times but has repeatedly stalled in the U.S. Senate. Jordan Williams, a fellow with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, said that the more resources that are put into the area, which would occur with the national monument designation, the more people will respect and protect it.
“It’s a lot about education,” Williams said. “It’s like, if you’re going to park here, bike here, hike here, how do you do that responsibly? Having a designated trail is a great way to do that because you’re limiting your impact, obviously on the natural resources side of things, and also allowing access in a sustainable way.”
The advocates attending the rally, after the Continental Divide Trail Coalition’s 4-mile Cataract Falls hike in Camp Hale’s surrounding areas, agreed that the land’s designation as a national monument is necessary so that the land will be available and remain beautiful for generations to come.
“I hope to God that somebody in high places listens to an old guy who was there and knows the value of what you have in this 10-mile circuit,” Lovett said. “So, all the best to you, and an urgent message to President Biden — For Pete’s sake, pay attention, pick up your pen and sign.”