CORE Act supporters make appeal to Biden’s agriculture secretary to take executive action

Carolyn Paletta
Vail Daily
U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper talk to the media Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, at Camp Hale.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

While the passage of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy Act in the United States Senate remains elusive, supporters of the sweeping legislation to protect thousands of acres of federal land aren’t giving up the fight.

And, after more than a decade of focused effort, there may be an alternate route to breaking the statemate: executive action from President Joe Biden.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack committed to recommending to Biden that Camp Hale, the historic World War II-era training site for the U.S. Army that’s included in the CORE Act, be recognized as a national monument following a meeting Tuesday with federal and state legislators and community representatives.

Vilsack traveled to Camp Hale, located between Leadville and Red Cliff, to tour the site on an invitation from Sen. Michael Bennet, one of the CORE Act’s sponsors, and was joined by Rep. Joe Neguse, Sen. John Hickenlooper ​​and Gov. Jared Polis. Following the tour, the representatives met with a diverse group of local stakeholders to hear why recognizing and protecting Camp Hale as a national monument is important to the Colorado community and the country as a whole.

Descendents of 10th Mountain Division veterans explained the significance of recognizing the site while veterans of the camp are still alive. They spoke about how essential the 10th Mountain Division is to Colorado’s history, embodying the spirit of the West and laying the framework for the modern ski industry that mountain communities thrive on today.

“Urgency, to me, is the central takeaway from today’s conversation,” Neguse said. “We’ve got to get this done. We want to get this done while we have the incredible 10th Mountain Division veterans still with us to be able to share with them this legacy.”

Local government officials, including Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry and Vail mayor Kim Langmaid, emphasized the direct connection between the history of Camp Hale and the existence of the current community in Eagle County. Chandler-Henry also recommended that with the increased tourism seen in the area since the pandemic, it is more important than ever to preserve these heritage sights for future visitors to experience and understand its origins.

Conservationists from the Eagle River Watershed Council and U.S. Forest Service spoke alongside hunters, anglers and ranchers about the importance of conserving the land for ecological reasons, as well as historical, and advocated for similar protections for other areas, including the Thompson Divide.

After listening to the wide range of support for this action, Vilsack praised the collaborative action demonstrated in the meeting.

“This was a conversation that involved the entire community, that went through the process of compromise and listening, and it’s all the things that we talk about in this country that we’d like to see more of,” Vilsack said. “People with diverse interests coming together, sitting around a table and saying, ‘I give, you give, we basically make sure that we make progress together.’”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speak to the media Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, at Camp Hale near Red Cliff. Many want the former World War II-era training site to be designated as a national landmark.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

He affirmed that he would bring the recommendation to turn Camp Hale into a national monument before Biden, and punctuated this commitment with a mock-speech of exactly what he planned to say to the president about Camp Hale.

“Here’s what I’m going to tell Mr. President,” Vilsack said. “I heard an extraordinary example of collaboration and partnership at the meeting that took place in Colorado. … ​​I heard this is a special place. One that’s reflective of literally 8,000 years of heritage. One that reflects the values of the West, which are incredibly important, and I think represents that independent streak that we have in this country. Of those who fought for our freedom.”

The protection of Camp Hale as a national historic site was originally proposed as part of the CORE Act, which would protect over 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado. Though repeatedly passed in the House of Representatives, the bill has stalled in the Senate. Many at the meeting urged Vilsack and the legislators to continue pushing for adoption of the CORE Act, but until this larger step can be taken, the urgency of conferring recognition while the veterans are alive demanded more rapid action.

Vilsack agreed with the arguments, and closed his mock speech to the president with a push to do just that.

“Mr. President, I know that you’re supportive of the CORE Act, but in the meantime, as we work in the Senate to get that done, are there things that we can do now and should do now? Because there is a high expectation of you and of me, Mr. President, and frankly, I don’t want to disappoint these people,” Vilsack said.

Bennet, who organized the tour of Camp Hale, expressed gratitude for this movement in the right direction, and committed to continue pushing for the passage of the CORE Act in its entirety.

​​”There’s so much to be grateful for here, and I think we’re going to push very very hard to make sure that we get a designation that can hold up,” Bennet said. “We’re going to make sure that we don’t give up on the CORE act, as everybody around this table said, because that’s the ultimate aim, is to pass that well-supported bill to support this environment. That is so important to people here in Colorado but, frankly, important to the entire world.”