Camp Hale monument declaration could renew attention on restoration plan |

Camp Hale monument declaration could renew attention on restoration plan

Restoration efforts will be complicated, and probably expensive

Scott Miller
Vail Daily
The Eagle River was turned from a meandering stream through the Pando Valley to accommodate the 1940s construction of Camp Hale for the 10th Mountain Division. A restoration plan wants to restore part of the stream to a more natural state.
Vail Daily archive photo

The Wednesday, Oct. 12, designation of Camp Hale as the country’s latest national monument may re-focus efforts at a restoration plan for the area.

The plan has been around since 2015, drafted by a large stakeholder group including Eagle County, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Forest Foundation and local residents. The plan contains a number of recommendations, including:

  • Restoring more than 340 acres of wetlands filled in when the 10th Mountain Division’s training site was built in the 1940s.
  • Restoring roughly five miles of the Eagle River back to its original, meandering course. The river was put into a straight channel when Camp Hale was built.
  • Interpretive historic signs and kiosks at several locations in the area.
  • Improving the campground facilities at the site.

That’s a lot of work in the best case. But Marcus Selig of the National Forest Foundation said the Camp Hale site is particularly complex. Part of that complexity comes from the inclusion of both Camp Hale and portions of the 10 Mile Range in the monument’s boundaries.

More of that complexity comes along with what’s on the valley floor and in the surrounding country. Selig noted there’s likely to be asbestos in at least some of the remaining structures — little more than remnants now. And from time to time, people hiking in the area find unexploded ordinance.

Management ideas

Ideas for managing the new Camp Hale national monument include:

  • More interpretive signs about Camp Hale’s history
  • Improving the campground
  • Restoring the Eagle River to its original course
  • Removing the fill dirt that covered the wetlands on the valley floor

‘Careful analysis’ needed

“It’s a project that requires careful analysis,” Selig said. In addition, due to the Forest Service’s generally light staffing and other, more pressing, projects, “We’re not much farther along, from a restoration standpoint, than we were in 2015,” Selig added.

The restoration effort is likely to be spurred by the need to develop a management plan for the national monument.

David Boyd, the public information officer for the White River National Forest, wrote in an email that the management plan “will continue” the discussions about restoration, while including historic preservation.

The historic preservation portion of the management plan will include indigenous tribes that were in the area in the past.

Local resident Lee Rimel was part of the team that put the original plan together. Rimel said the national monument designation “gives us a new platform” to continue the work. And, he added, there may be a chance to obtain funding for the work.

Rimel said he believes the new designation “will inspire people to again look at work that needs to be done to restore Camp Hale.

Potential conflicts

The monument’s management plan will have to solve some potential conflicts between preservation and restoration.

Rimel noted that descendants of 10th Mountain Division veterans have lobbied to preserve the rifle range on the valley floor. But the river in its natural state would flow across that site. Still, Rimel said, he believes “we’ll get some of that meander back.”

Another potential question is how much of the untold amount of fill dirt should be removed to restore some of the wetlands on the valley floor.

“That will require tremendous effort and money,” Rimel said.

Selig noted that the monument declaration doesn’t change the resources now dedicated to managing the area. But the new designation could free up either more funding or more public awareness of the need for preservation funds.

Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry acknowledged the complexity of any restoration effort. And, she added, the county’s recreation economy has to be an important part of a management plan.

“We want to protect the lands, and recognize the value to our (economy),” Chandler-Henry said.

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