Sept. 21 marked the 10th anniversary of the designation of Chimney Rock, in southwest Colorado, as a national monument. Designated through the use of the Antiquities Act in 2012, this archaeological treasure is now preserved for future generations to reflect and make spiritual connections, learn from, and enjoy, while visiting with respect.
Protected public lands such as national monuments are an important part of Colorado and US identity and a driver of our tourism and outdoor recreation economy. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis found that outdoor recreation contributed $9.6 billion to Colorado’s economy in 2020 alone. And according to Colorado College’s 2022 Conservation in the West poll, more than 80 percent of Colorado voters support creating new protected lands.
Specifically, 86 percent of voters support designating a national monument at Camp Hale right outside of Leadville.
With this impressively broad support, it should be no surprise that Coloradans are calling on President Biden to designate a Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument. It would pay tribute to the 10th Mountain Division veterans who trained at Camp Hale and fought for our country — some of whom then returned home to found Colorado’s ski industry.
Today, the ski industry generates $4.8 billion in annual economic output and supports more than 46,000 jobs and serves as an important backbone for many rural communities. The national-monument designation would also expand protections over surrounding lands of the Tenmile Range that beckon hikers and are home to some of Colorado’s most iconic wildlife.
But protecting Camp Hale holds real and deep personal meaning for me.
As a combat veteran, I know our public lands and waters offer a place of solace, resilience, and strength that can’t be found anywhere else. I was deployed to Afghanistan from 2006-2007 with the 10th Mountain Division (now based in New York), and, like many veterans and people who experienced trauma through combat, I returned as a different person. Camp Hale hasn’t been operational since World War II, yet Hale and the surrounding areas act as my therapist, my gym, my church, and my playground.
Spending time in nature – in places like Camp Hale and the Tenmile Range – has provided me with healing experiences that I cannot receive from medicine or through the VA. I know that I am not alone in this feeling. Veterans from all across the country are turning to protected places and the outdoors as a tool to help heal and to have productive and satisfying lives after all we have experienced.
That is why for years, I, along with small business owners, fellow veterans, local elected officials, and hunters and anglers, have been working to protect Camp Hale and its surrounding lands for future generations. For years, we have been coming together to craft a proposal that would honor our history and preserve our future.
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act came out of years of community engagement and discussions that resulted in a proposal to conserve the San Juan Mountains, the Thompson Divide, Curecanti National Recreation Area, and Camp Hale and the Continental Divide. Current protections for these areas do not do enough to limit these lands and waterways from mineral, lumber, and water extraction as well as housing development.
Though this legislation has passed the House five times, it has stalled in the Senate, despite strong local support. That is why I am joining U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, U.S. Rep.Joe Neguse, and Gov. Jared Polis in asking President Biden to designate the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, and to protect the Thompson Divide, the San Juan Mountains, and Curecanti through administrative protections until Congress can come together and pass this legislation. The overwhelming and diverse support for these protections have waited long enough.
Time is running out to honor the World War II veterans who helped make our country and our state what it is today. I urge President Biden to designate the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument. It is time to honor the Greatest Generation and all those who served since and preserve this piece of living history forever and for all.
Bradley Noone lives in Salida.
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