Under new management: What will the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument mean for Eagle, Summit counties?

The Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument will be a U.S. Forest Service-managed monument, one of only 13 among 130 in the U.S.

The map of the new Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument in the White River National Forest.
Courtesy image

The local office of the White River National Forest has received a lot of questions since welcoming President Joe Biden to the area on Oct. 12.

Biden designated a new national monument in Eagle and Summit Counties, the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, which will usher in a new management plan for the 53,804 acres of Forest Service land in both counties.

In the days that followed, David Boyd with the White River National Forest said there were “a lot of questions about what exactly that means, and we’ll be working with everybody to help determine that.”

The first step in the process, Boyd said, will be the drafting of plan alternatives for the Forest Service to consider in its future management of the monument.

The Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument will be a U.S. Forest Service-managed monument, one of only 13 among the 130 national monuments in the U.S. Most others are managed by the National Park Service, which often gives those areas the look and feel of a national park, with a visitor center greeting guests, running water in the campgrounds and a junior ranger program for visiting children.

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But the absence of the park service in Camp Hale’s management doesn’t mean the new national monument can’t take on those qualities, Boyd said. That will be for the management plan to determine.

“We don’t at this point know when we will start that, but it’s a long process with lots of involvement with the public and stakeholders, and that will determine more specifics,” Boyd said.

Years-long process

When President Obama proclaimed, in 2012, that 4,726 acres of land between Durango and Pagosa Springs would comprise a new national monument known as Chimney Rock, it too was mandated to be managed by the Forest Service, as the land was located in San Juan National Forest.

The management plan for the area wasn’t finalized and approved until October 2015. It called for a new visitor center, parking areas and trails. Construction began on the new Chimney Rock visitor center in 2019 and it opened in May.

In the last three years, visitation to Chimney Rock National Monument has almost doubled, Lead Ranger Cody Cammack told the Durango Herald in June.

“We are trying to look and feel like other national monuments as far as how we’re managed and what people expect,” Cammack said.

That also includes an entrance fee, something currently not required at Camp Hale. But that’s another detail to be worked out in the management plan, as not all national monuments require an entrance fee or national parks pass for visitors seeking day access.

Browns Canyon National Monument in Chaffee County, also designated by President Obama, is co-managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management and does not charge an entrance fee, but also doesn’t have the “look and feel” of the other national monuments described by Cammack.

Camp Hale is seen from an ECO Flight plane Oct. 11. The area was dedicated as a national monument by President Joe Biden on Oct. 12.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Historical uses

In drafting new management plans, management of valid existing rights and other uses often have the potential to be a point of contention. When the Chimney Rock National Monument management plan went into effect, grazing and dispersed camping were closed off in that portion of the national forest in an effort to better protect the more than 150 known prehistoric sites of the ancestral Pueblo people.

“Grazing can have potentially negative impacts to cultural resources, terrestrial and riparian ecosystems, water resources and soils, and terrestrial wildlife and fisheries,” Forest Supervisor Kara Chadwick said in approving the management plan.

In Browns Canyon, however, where grazing was touted by the Bureau of Land Management as benefitting the local economy and maintaining the historic ranching heritage of Chaffee County, grazing allotments were maintained following the adoption of a new management plan.

In his proclamation creating the Browns Canyon national monument, President Obama mentioned the area as being important for both outdoor recreation and grazing. Both uses have been preserved in the creation of the Browns Canyon National Monument.

“Even today, this same upper Arkansas River valley remains a major transportation corridor for Chaffee County residents and visitors, as well as an important resource for recreational anglers and boaters, and area ranchers and farmers,” Obama said.

President Biden, in his proclamation creating the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, mentioned the area’s significance to both the outdoor recreation industry and the mining industry, particularly in the Tenmile Range. Outdoor recreation will be preserved in the new monument, according to Biden’s direction, but by encompassing both the Camp Hale area and the Tenmile Range, the creation of the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument is able to protect against future mining claims in the area.

In a September editorial suggesting a Camp Hale national monument makes much fanfare of protecting future drilling in areas where it’s unlikely to ever happen, the Vail Daily pointed out that “By creating a national monument at Camp Hale, supporters say it would also prevent future drilling and mining there. But that’s based on the assumption that this location — a national historic site, on the National Register of Historic Places — will someday be laden with fracking equipment.”

But the monument boundaries turned out to be much bigger than the valley floor at Camp Hale. It also includes areas where “something could have come in, especially in the Tenmile,” Boyd said. “In that part of it, there is a mining history.”

There are no active mines in the area currently, Boyd said, but the potential was there.

“There wasn’t anything coming that we knew of,” Boyd said. “But it could, certainly in the Tenmile.”

Boyd said one thing that does exist in the area is patented mining claims, where the federal government has conveyed title to the claimant, making it private land. Those existing rights will be honored under the new designation.

President Joe Biden speaks at the signing of the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument Oct. 12 at Camp Hale.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

New travel management plan

Biden mentioned the area’s mining history in his proclamation, saying that was the reason the Ute Tribes were forced to relinquish control of Camp Hale and the Tenmile Range in 1880.

“The area is replete with evidence of the mining activity that sparked the exclusion of the Ute people and drove development in the region in the late 19th century,” Biden said. “Forced from much of their homelands when precious minerals were discovered, their history serves as a stark reminder that the United States’ commitment to its highest ideals of democracy, liberty, and equality has too often been imperfect, particularly for Tribal Nations and Indigenous peoples.”

The new monument will ensure that access is provided to tribal members for traditional cultural, spiritual, and customary uses, Biden said in his direction to the forest service.

Biden’s direction also includes the creation of something likely to create a bit of nervousness among recreational forest users, a new travel management plan.

The White River National Forest’s last travel management plan was finalized in 2011 and its effects are still being felt today with limitations on road and trail use now being enforced in areas previously open to vehicles.

But Biden, in his proclamation, said the new travel management plan should continue to provide for both motorized and non-motorized mechanized vehicle uses, calling out mountain biking specifically as a use that will maintain its status quo.

“Unless inconsistent with the proper care and management of the objects identified above, non-motorized mechanized vehicle uses, including mountain biking, shall continue to be permitted on the roads and trails designated for such uses on the date of this proclamation,” Biden said.

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