Newest national monument was once a WWII combat training site: NPR

Colorado has a new national monument. Camp Hale was a winter combat training site during World War II. (Story aired on Weekend Edition Saturday, October 15, 2022.)


Colorado has a new national monument – Camp Hale. It was a winter combat training site during World War II. The skiers who trained there went to fight in Italy and many of them returned to the Rockies after the war to found ski resorts. Leigh Paterson with KUNC member station in northern Colorado spent time there.

LEIGH PATERSON, BYLINE: Today, little still stands. But in the 1940s, this vast, windy valley was home to a bustling military installation with a thousand buildings, including a hospital, barracks and firing range. During World War II, soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division trained here for winter warfare – skiing, climbing and outdoor living.

SUSIE KINCADE: I mean, it’s camp. They weren’t often here in the camp.

PATERSON: This is Susie Kincade, a local conservationist.

KINCADE: They would come back once a week, maybe, to shave and shower, and then they would come back for another week of maneuvers.

PATERSON: Large chunks of the country house remain, as does a network of roads. Mountain peaks, thick forests and steep rock faces surround the valley.

KINCADE: That’s where they fell in love with the lifestyle, mountaineering and life in the Rockies. And that’s why so many of them came back.

PATERSON: Many of those trained at Camp Hale have gone on to become leaders in the outdoor recreation industry. After the war, these soldiers created more than 60 ski areas, according to the Colorado Snowsports Museum. One became the first executive director of Mountain range Club. Another founded the National Outdoor Leadership School, or NOLS.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It’s for the people of Colorado. But it also goes far beyond the people of Colorado. This is for all people across America and the world.

PATERSON: President Biden’s creation of the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument from national forest land means the area’s history will be better preserved. Future development, such as mining, will be prohibited. Skiing, snowmobiling, hiking and camping will still be permitted.

Nancy Kramer recently came to the History Colorado Museum in Denver for the annual meeting of the 10th Mountain Division Foundation. She’s the president.

NANCY KRAMER: And I’m the daughter of William Rope-Sole Robertson, who was an orderly at the 87th in the 10th Mountain Division.

PATERSON: His father didn’t talk much about the war until one day many years ago when he was visiting the area. Before stopping at Camp Hale, the family stopped near the Tennessee Pass to visit the 10th Mountain Division Memorial.

KRAMER: My dad was very quiet, sitting in the back seat, and he just – like a bullet through the car door.

PATERSON: His father put his hands on the stone memorial, running his fingers over the names.

KRAMER: For this man who hadn’t talked about the war and for us to not really understand the meaning for him, everything came alive. He touched the names of his buddies who were killed.

PATERSON: About a thousand of those soldiers were killed in action in World War II. One of their most important battles took place at Riva Ridge in the Italian mountains. The soldiers climbed 2,000 feet at night, surprising the Germans and finally taking control of the ridge.

Bradley Noone is a current 10th Mountain Division veteran who served in Afghanistan. Overlooking the ruins of Camp Hale, he says this area helped him recover from active combat.

BRADLEY NOONE: It gave me a place to recharge my batteries. It gave me a place to recover from my battle stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, and physical injuries. It became my church, my therapists, my playgrounds and my gymnasium.

PATERSON: In addition to military history, the monument is also intended to preserve the history of the Ute tribes who lived in these lands long ago. But in response to Biden’s proclamation, the Ute Indian Tribe of Utah said they opposed the designation and that it was done without tribal consultation.

For NPR News, I’m Leigh Paterson.

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