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The newest national monument was once a winter combat training site for World War II soldiers


A valley high in the Colorado Rockies where soldiers trained in mountain combat long ago is now a national monument - established this week by President Biden. Leigh Paterson with member station KUNC in Northern Colorado spoke with people who've been pushing for this designation about what Camp Hale means to them.

LEIGH PATERSON, BYLINE: Today, little still stands. But in the 1940s, this vast, windy valley was home to a bustling military facility with 1,000 buildings, including a hospital, barracks and a shooting range. During World War II, soldiers with the 10th Mountain Division trained here in winter warfare - skiing, climbing and living outside.

SUSIE KINCADE: I mean, this is the camp. They weren't here in the camp that often.

PATERSON: This is Susie Kincade, a local wilderness advocate.

KINCADE: They came back once a week, maybe, to shave and shower, and then they'd head back up for another week of maneuvers.

PATERSON: Large chunks of the field house remain, as does a grid of roads. Mountain peaks, thick forests and sheer rock faces ring the valley.

KINCADE: That's where they fell in love with the lifestyle and the mountaineering style and life in the Rocky Mountains. And that's why so many of them returned.

PATERSON: Many who trained at Camp Hale went on to be 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 the Sierra Club. Another founded the National Outdoor Leadership School, or NOLS.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It's for the people of Colorado. But it's - also goes well beyond the people of Colorado. It's for all the people across America and the world.

PATERSON: President Biden's creation of the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument out of National Forest land means the area's history will be better preserved. Future development, like mining, will be prohibited. Skiing, snowmobiling, hiking and camping will still be allowed.

Nancy Kramer came to the History Colorado museum in Denver recently for the 10th Mountain Division Foundation's yearly meeting. She's the president.

NANCY KRAMER: And I'm the daughter of William Rope-Sole Robertson, who was a medic in the 87th in the 10th Mountain Division.

PATERSON: Her dad didn't talk much about the war until one day many years ago during a visit to the area. Before stopping at Camp Hale, the family pulled over nearby at Tennessee pass to visit the 10th Mountain Division Memorial.

KRAMER: My dad had been very quiet, sitting in the back seat, and he just - like a bullet out the car door.

PATERSON: Her dad put his hands on the stone memorial, running his fingers over the names.

KRAMER: For this man who had not talked about the war, and for us to not really understand the significance to him, it all came to life. He was touching the names of his buddies that were killed.

PATERSON: Around a thousand of these soldiers were killed in action during World War II. One of their most significant battles was at Riva Ridge in the mountains of Italy. Soldiers scaled up 2,000 feet at night, surprising the Germans and eventually taking control of the ridge.


PATERSON: Bradley Noone is a current 10th Mountain Division veteran who served in Afghanistan. Looking out over the ruins of Camp Hale, he says this area has helped him heal from active combat.

BRADLEY NOONE: It's given me a place to recharge. It's given me a place to recover from my combat stress, my post-traumatic stress disorder and my physical injuries. It's become my church, my therapists, my playgrounds and my gym.

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

For NPR News, I'm Leigh Paterson.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOHN SONG, "SIGNAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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