Camp Hale, Colo., played a unique role in World War II; one that means potentially hazardous military munitions and unexploded ordnance exist in the area. Through the Department of Defense’s Formerly Used Defense Sites mission and under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District is cleaning up contamination, addressing military munitions, and removing safety hazards caused by past activities.
“In places where there are munitions or there is historical evidence munitions may be present, we revisit the site to determine if we need to address concerns or perform more in-depth surveillance,” said Adam Little, project manager for the clean-up.
The current clean-up phase involves a remedial investigation, which defines areas requiring potential remedial action.
In April 1998, the Omaha District completed an Inventory Project Report identifying Camp Hale as eligible for funding under FUDS programming. The District’s Military Munitions Response Program is responsible for the clean-up effort.
Through their efforts, which include researching historical archives, performing site inspections, time critical removal actions, and remedial investigations, the team has successfully reduced the potentially impacted area from 226,000 acres (or about 312 square miles) to 101,116 acres.
The MMRP team’s goal is to shrink the area requiring cleanup by determining the nature and extent of impacts and to identify contaminated areas or specific hazards.
“Through the process, we’re eliminating areas that do not require cleanup so we can reduce the overall cleanup cost and focus efforts on areas needing the most attention,” said Little.
In 1940, after learning that Finnish troops held off Soviet invaders for three months using winter warfare tactics, National Ski Patrol founder, Charles “Minnie” Dole, penned a letter to the War Department offering to help train U.S. soldiers. Training for six U.S. Army divisions was ordered to prepare troops to fight in cold weather and mountainous regions.
Among the units was the 10th Light Division (Alpine), established July 13, 1943, at Camp Hale. The Division’s year-long training at the 9,200-foot high camp, near Vail, Colo., honed the soldiers’ fighting and survival skills under brutal mountain conditions.
Redesignated as the 10th Mountain Division in 1944, its soldiers were known as “Ski Troops” with high altitude, sub-zero temperature survival skills that included carrying 90 lb. packs, scaling sheer cliffs, and skiing treacherous mountain passes. The division was among the most decorated of World War II.
It was the 10th Mountain Division’s veterans who contributed to Colorado’s winter ski vacation industry and growth in the sport’s popularity.
The military, including the 38th Regimental Combat Team, 99th Infantry Battalion, and soldiers from Fort Carson who conducted mountain and winter warfare training exercises from 1942 to 1965, used up to 247,000 acres at Camp Hale. The Army also tested weapons and equipment there. From 1959 through 1965, the CIA secretly trained Tibetan soldiers at the camp.
In July 1965, Camp Hale was deactivated. Since 1966, much of the land within Camp Hale’s boundaries has been managed by the U.S. Forest Service, located in the White River, San Isabel, and Arapaho National Forests. There are also some privately held properties where the camp was located.
A risk management plan and community involvement program helps inform visitors about Camp Hale’s military history alerting them to the presence of munitions. The plan includes education efforts about what to do if a suspected military munition is discovered and follows a formal response protocol.
“Public safety is very important; ‘the three R’s, Recognize, Retreat and Report,’ are a primary education message with brochures available at Forest Service offices,” said Little. “We want people to enjoy the National Forest and let experts handle the munitions.”
Thus far, two time critical removal actions have occurred, in 2001 and 2003. In all, 26 live items were destroyed by Fort Carson Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel. Other munitions and munitions-related scrap metals were properly disposed of and removed from the area.
Once the remedial investigation defines the areas requiring potential action, a feasibility study will review the available options and costs, which will be shared with the public once the proposed plan has been completed.