President Joe Biden will travel to Colorado on Wednesday to designate Camp Hale, a World War II-era military training site, and the nearby Tenmile Range as America’s newest national monument, bringing more than 50,000 federal acres under a new set of protections that will bar new mining, drilling and other development.
Located in central Colorado, Camp Hale is where the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division trained soldiers to ski and rock climb in preparation for deployment to Italy during World War II. The Army shuttered the site in 1965, and it has become a destination for hikers and campers as part of the White River National Forest.
Tenmile Range, which runs north to south between the resort towns of Breckenridge and Copper Mountain, is home to more than a dozen high-elevation peaks that served as a training ground for the 10th Mountain Division.
Biden will sign a proclamation establishing Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument during a visit to the historic military site on Wednesday, according to a White House official. The site will be managed by the U.S. Forest Service and span nearly 54,000 acres — an area larger than Washington, D.C.
Biden previously restored three national monuments that his predecessor dismantled, but this will be his first designation as president.
The Biden administration will additionally take the first step on Wednesday toward establishing a 20-year ban on all new drilling and mining activity across an additional 225,000 acres in Thompson Divide, also located in the White River National Forest.
The effort comes just weeks after Democratic leaders in Colorado began lobbying Biden to use his executive authority to preserve Colorado lands amid roadblocks to passing a conservation package through a divided Senate.
For years, conservation and environmental groups in Colorado have pushed for more protections to ensure that the preservation of Camp Hale’s history and outdoor recreation opportunities for the public take priority over extractive interests like mining, timber felling and drilling for oil.
Nancy Kramer is president of the 10th Mountain Division Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to honoring the legacy of division soldiers. Her father, William Robertson, was a medic in the 10th Mountain Division.
“This is going to be one of the more diverse monuments, and I think that’s what makes it really significant,” she said, noting that the camp and the surrounding area are rich in military and Indigenous history, ecologically important landscapes and outdoor recreation opportunities.
“If you look at the 129 monuments, there’s a lot of similar landscapes and stories,” she added. “That’s what’s cool about this — it’s different, and there’s not many that get close to what this speaks to.”
The public supports the protection of wild lands by wide margins, according to a July poll released by the Center for Western Priorities. Some 90% of respondents from Western states said national public lands, parks and wildlife were important to them, with 81% saying those issues influence how they vote.
But polarization in Congress has made it more difficult to designate lands as federally protected wilderness areas in recent years.
Members of Congress from Colorado have tried several times over more than a decade to win greater protections for Camp Hale. A 2011 bill directing the Department of the Interior to study whether to turn it over to the National Park Service went nowhere.
Over its last two sessions, Democratic members of the Colorado delegation have pushed a bill, the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, that would create new wilderness areas in the state and turn the 30,000 acres surrounding Camp Hale into the country’s first “National Historic Landmark.”
But without support from Republicans, the bill floundered. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) opposed the measure, calling it a “land grab” championed by “leftists and extremists.”
Kramer got emotional talking about the long road to Wednesday’s monument announcement.
“We’re thrilled and excited and so grateful for the recognition,” she said. “This is a lot of years of work, and most of the veterans are gone now, and they’ve always wanted to see it preserved. This is the time.”
The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the president broad authority to designate national monuments on existing federal lands to protect unique landscapes and cultural heritage. Biden’s actions Wednesday will effectively salvage key portions of the deadlocked Colorado bill.
“In the end, voters don’t care about how land gets protected,” said Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities. “They just want to see it protected.”
Days after taking office, the Biden administration targeted an ambitious goal of conserving at least 30% of American public lands by 2030. While administration officials have yet to settle on a definition for what they mean by “conserve,” advocates for wild lands generally view federally designated wilderness areas as the gold standard.
Wilderness areas don’t allow motorized vehicles, mountain bikes, oil and gas drilling or mineral extraction. They can, however, permit cattle and sheep grazing.
The administration is under increasing pressure to establish new monuments — something Biden promised to do on the campaign trail. Nearly two years into his term, the administration is finally starting to make good on that promise. Along with Camp Hale, it appears to be eyeing several other sites for future designation.
Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland visited Avi Kwa Ame, or Spirit Mountain, in September — a site in southern Nevada that several Native American tribes consider sacred.
A coalition of tribes and environmentalists have proposed a sweeping national monument that would link the mountain to other protected lands. Large swaths of contiguous land protect biodiversity more effectively than isolated chunks.
Haaland also visited the Castner Range — another proposed national monument — outside El Paso, Texas, in March.