A huge expanse of mountains and valleys, where soldiers of the WWII Army’s 10th Mountain Division trained in snowshoeing, skiing and climbing for their battle in the Italian Alps , will become the country’s newest national monument.

President Joe Biden was traveling to rural Colorado on Wednesday to designate more than 53,000 acres of land as a Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument under the Antiquities Act, protecting the land from development, mining and of deforestation.

“This monument preserves and protects the mountains and valleys where the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division prepared for its courageous service that ultimately ended World War II,” the White House said in a statement. after Biden signed the proclamation. “Their skills, courage and endurance were instrumental in protecting democracy and fighting the spread of fascism.”

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This marks Biden’s first national monument designation as president and ends a years-long legislative effort by Colorado Democratic US Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper to protect the land.

The designation of Camp Hale as a national monument was also heart-warming for some of the remaining veterans who trained there.

World War II veteran Francis Lovett, who trained at Camp Hale, told Bennet’s office in a video interview that having such an important place for his life free from development is invaluable to him.

“The experience with the outdoors was, for me, one of the most magnificent moments of my life…it’s one of the reasons I’m so interested in having this declared a national monument,” Lovett said in the interview. “It’s so easy to tear things down. And you can’t put them back together.”

Training at Camp Hale, located about 100 miles southwest of Denver, was rigorous and conditions for the 15,000 soldiers stationed in the freezing cold of Colorado were often miserable. This led to the nickname “Camp Hell”, according to the Association for the Conservation of National Parks.

“I got off the train and looked around and thought, ‘What have I done? There were all these snow-capped mountains,'” said Bruce Campbell, a World War II veteran who also trained at Camp Hale. CBSDenver. “We were doing little hikes like 20 miles in eight hours that were in solid ground or even on skis.”

Additionally, the Camp Hale mountains were used by the CIA to secretly train Tibetan soldiers from 1959 to 1965. according to an Army Corps of Engineers fact sheet. The site was decommissioned and then returned to the US Forest Service in 1966.

Since then, considerable efforts have been made to clear the area of ​​unexploded mines and military munitions throughout the region. Two widespread sweeps took place, one in 2001 and the other in 2003, which led to the removal of nearly 30 live objects which were destroyed by personnel from Fort Carson Explosive Ordnance Disposal, the Army Corps of Engineers said in a 2014 press release.

Biden’s designation of Camp Hale as a national monument is also a political move, offering Bennet, a fellow Democrat, a boost in his competitive bid for Senate re-election where he will face Republican nominee Joe O’Dea in the upcoming midterm elections.

In a statement Wednesday, O’Dea called Camp Hale an “incredible place” but criticized the designation, saying, “Biden and Bennet are badly moving the country in the wrong direction, and no amount of photo ops in a place that we all love will change that fact: voter empowerment is coming soon.”

Republican members of the Colorado delegation to Washington were also against Biden using the Antiquities Act – an authority passed in 1906 by Theodore Roosevelt that allows the president to protect federal lands by making them monuments – saying it circumvents Congressional approval.

“While Camp Hale and our military personnel stationed there made significant

contributions to World War II, we do not support the efforts of extremist environmentalists who

are seeking to divert this historic site to create a new land designation — a designation that

literally does not exist – to ban harvesting and logging on nearly 30,000 acres of land,” reads a Sept. 23 letter signed by members of Colorado’s GOP congressional delegation.

The designation of Camp Hale as a national monument also comes as the state prepares to potentially lose the US Space Command headquarters in Colorado Springs to Huntsville, Alabama. Former President Donald Trump has announced Alabama’s Redstone Arsenal as the preferred command location in the final days of his administration.

Bennet and Hickenlooper wrote a letter to Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall on September 27urging him to reconsider Colorado Springs “prior to the release of a final decision.”

Additionally, the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization this year — which ultimately left abortion rights to the states — raised a red flag for Bennet, who believes moving US Space Command from the Colorado to Alabama adversely affect the quality of life of the troops, as well as the Army’s retention efforts.

“I am deeply concerned about how the Dobbs decision and state abortion bans will affect Space Command’s workforce and readiness if the command leaves Colorado,” Bennet told Military.com in an emailed statement.

— Thomas Novelly can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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