President Joe Biden to designate Camp Hale a national monument

President Joe Biden will travel to Colorado next week to designate Camp Hale as a national monument, two people familiar with the plans have confirmed to the Denver Post.

Camp Hale, near Leadville, served as a key training ground for the legendary 10th Mountain Division during World War II. In turn, returning veterans helped launch the ski industry that draws visitors from across the globe to Colorado.

Camp Hale sits at 9,200 feet in a wide, flat, valley forested by lodgepole pines and near the headwaters of the Eagle River with the East Fork River. Its rugged, harsh winters helped prepare soldiers for mountain fighting. A photo published in 2016 shows concrete structures still standing, graffitied with messages like “Climb to Glory.”

Its preservation has been a key piece of the conservation-minded CORE Act, championed by U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse. The three, along with Gov. Jared Polis, hosted Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack there in August to urge executive action by the White House.

Biden’s Wednesday plans were first reported by the Los Angeles Times. The people who confirmed the plans to the Post weren’t authorized to speak about it publicly.

A national monument designation would protect the area from future development while preserving its buildings and surrounding wildlife habitats. Any existing rights in the area would be unaffected by the designation. Biden has the authority through the Antiquities Act.

During Vilsack’s visit, he and others noted the importance of the camp as part of state and U.S. history. The dwindling number of veterans who passed through the camp on their way to fight fascists in the Alps underscored the need for action, Vilsack said in August.

“This conversation needs to take place, in a sense, yesterday,” Vilsack said.

The Democrats at the event credited Bennet for bringing Vilsack to Colorado. The senator followed it up with a phone call with Biden and by delivering dozens of letters from veterans and state and local officials about the designation. He has otherwise been vague about progress on the designation.

At an event in mid-September, Bennet said conversations with Biden had been “positive” but that it wasn’t his decision to make or speculate on.

“We’re working hard to make sure that what we can protect out of the CORE Act, in the short term, we’re able to do it,” Bennet said then. “We still want to pass the entire CORE Act but we’re working with the administration to see what’s possible.”

Bennet is up for re-election this November and facing Republican businessman Joe O’Dea. O’Dea told the Colorado Sun that he’d support a bipartisan approach to public lands efforts, but that he doesn’t support the bill as written.

“I know a lot of work has gone into the bill, and this is one where the final details can get worked out when there’s a willingness to try to sit down and work out disagreement,” O’Dea told the Sun in a written statement.

The Sun reported that he didn’t say which parts of the bill he opposes, but cited other designations that happened when “a Republican in the Colorado delegation sat down with a Democrat in the delegation and local stakeholders and hammered out an agreement.”

In a follow-up statement Thursday, O’Dea called Camp Hale an “amazing place,” while implying the designation was an election-year stunt to deflect from issues of inflation, crime and border security.

“Biden and Bennet are moving the country badly in the wrong direction, and no amount of photo-ops in a place we all love will change this fact: accountability from the voters is coming soon,” O’Dea said in the statement.

The CORE Act has passed the U.S. House of Representatives four times but stalled in the deadlocked U.S. Senate. It’s faced opposition from Colorado’s Republican delegation, notably U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert. Much of the land that would be protected under the CORE act is in her district.

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