Behind the scenes: Multi-agency coordination made President Biden’s ‘historic’ Camp Hale visit possible
It’s not every day that the president pays a visit to Colorado’s High Country.
While Joe Biden’s whirlwind trip — from the airport in Gypsum up to Camp Hale via motorcade and then back onto Air Force One before flying off to California — brought the Secret Service, White House staff and numerous people to town from Washington D.C., many local individuals, businesses, agencies and organizations made it a reality.
From the smallest details like finding tables and chairs to preparing the Eagle County Regional Airport tarmac for Air Force One, working seamlessly behind the scenes were members of Eagle County law enforcement, U.S. Forest Service employees, Beaver Creek Resort and Nova Guides staff as well as many local residents.
The logistics of the presidential visit are comparable to that of putting together an instant command team for emergency events like wildfires — at least according to David Boyd, the public affairs officer for the White River National Forest.
“That same structure works for these kinds of complicated events where you need logistics and you need information and you need the planning people that put it all together and all those sorts of things,” Boyd said, adding that the positions were more logistics-heavy and different than what they would be in the event of a fire.
“What that does is it really gives it structure and defines roles really clearly so it’s just clear what your role in that organization is and who you report to and what tasks you need to do.”
As Biden’s designation of the Camp Hale-Continental Divide Monument occurred on federal Forest Service land, the agency played a large role in pulling the whole thing together, with the White House and the Secretary of Agriculture’s Office taking the lead, Boyd said.
“Our role was really supporting them and helping them get what they needed, which was quite involved and involved a lot of people,” Boyd said. “We were coordinating with local agencies and businesses as needed.”
The Forest Service provided signage, built fencing, created brochures on the newly-formed monument, supplied personnel — and more — both on the day of the dedication and the days leading up to it.
“It was really exciting to see this happen. We’re glad the area’s getting additional recognition, and it was nice to see the Forest Service and specifically the White River National Forest recognized at the event. That was really awesome, and then everything went really well — to be able to have played a part in that, people are really excited and proud,” Boyd said, adding that “having the (White River National) Forest Supervisor, Scott Fitzwilliams, introduce the president, that’s a big deal. That was really a neat thing to see.”
From Gypsum to Camp Hale
The logistics for Biden’s visit included carefully orchestrated operations at several locations, starting at the Eagle County Regional Airport where Air Force One landed around 11:37 a.m. and where the motorcade with Biden, Gov. Jared Polis, Rep. Joe Neguse as well as U.S. Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet took off toward Camp Hale around 12:15 p.m.
The motorcade then drove east along Interstate 70, making its way toward U.S. Highway 24 and the ultimate destination of Camp Hale, just past Red Cliff.
According to Vail Police Department Commander Ryan Kenney, the motorcade was controlled and planned largely by the Colorado State Patrol. The Vail Daily reached out to the state patrol for comment but received no immediate response.
Along the route, however, were members of local law enforcement agencies, helping with traffic control from the airport to Camp Hale. Kenney estimated that around 15 Vail Police personnel were stationed along the route, while Eagle County Sheriff James Van Beek estimated around eight to 10 deputies assisted from the Sheriff’s Office.
Planning for events like these, Kenney added, “really depends on what the secret service asks of us and where the final destination is.”
Van Beek said that it all comes down to “lots and lots of logistics.”
“It takes a very heavy lift, and a lot of coordination by every agency working together, not just locals, but the feds to make sure it works,” he said, adding that while these logistics were constantly evolving and changing leading up to Wednesday, it was the agency’s job to be flexible and help get the president in and out safely.
There had been some chatter that operations to restripe and patch areas of Highway 24 were done ahead of the president’s arrival on Wednesday. However, Elise Thatcher, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said that while CDOT crews are repaving and painting in two locations on the highway near Camp Hale, including work done on Tuesday, Oct. 11, these were part of preparations for winter, not for the president’s visit.
CDOT did also halt planned rock work on the roadway on Wednesday and provide traffic control and “roadway management, as requested,” by the White House and Secret Service, Thatcher said. This included partially closing roads and diverting traffic as the motorcade traveled through Eagle County.
Once at Camp Hale, the motorcade stopped at local recreation outfitter and guide service, Nova Guides, which was used for “staging and photo ops for the president,” said Patrick Murphy, the shop’s operations manager.
“All the staging, Secret Service, Forest Service — you name it — everything was here on our site property,” Murphy said. “We were over the moon with joy to be able to, A, have that responsibility and, B, for it to happen here, and obviously, C, for the national monument to be created here at Camp Hale, especially.”
From providing its wedding tent to helping set up, the staff at Nova Guides all pulled together to make it happen.
“A lot of our staff were actually here to do the setup and whatnot, so it was a great team effort — hands down, no doubt about it,” Murphy added.
Once on site, Biden and those accompanying him, made their way to the stage and area set up for the day’s speeches and for him to sign the official proclamation.
This site, according to Jen Mason, executive director of the Colorado Snowsports Museum — which put together a historic display of artifacts on site alongside History Colorado and the Denver Public Library — was chosen because it was located on federal land.
“I heard — because I was there all day Tuesday setting up — they should’ve done it right at the Nova Guide’s lodge, but the White House people were insistent that the actual signing happen on federal land, and I heard that came directly from Biden,” Mason said.
On the site selection, Boyd simply said that it was chosen following “lots of discussion with the White House and lots of possibilities” as officials looked for not only a beautiful location but also a secure location.
Also providing support was Eagle County Paramedics, which according to Steve Vardaman, the agency’s operations manager, had three dedicated ambulances for the event, one at Camp Hale, one at the airport and one supporting the motorcade between the two locations.
“Each ambulance was staffed with two paramedics. We also had a member of the Special Operations Unit … participate. Camp Hale is a pretty isolated location within Eagle County. Because of a greater distance to resources like hospitals, we needed to have extra assets available nearby during a high-profile event like this,” Vardaman said.
The other part of logistics included getting many local media, stakeholders, residents and dignitaries to the site. These groups gathered at Beaver Creek’s Elk Lot early Wednesday and, following Secret Service sweeps of the area, traveled via the Beaver Creek ski shuttles from Avon to Camp Hale starting around 10:15 a.m.
All coming together
For many, the event was tipped off a week prior, but the official details, including timing, locations and logistics were not given to them until days — or in some cases hours — in advance of Air Force One’s touchdown at the Eagle County Airport.
“Information with things like this — in large part due to security and the president has a very complicated schedule — start with getting a heads up that something’s likely next week, but you don’t know which day and then you start getting a little more specific information (as the day gets closer),” Boyd said.
“A week out, we knew something was coming in terms of an actual visit. We had been coordinating with them on a monument proclamation and things like that for a while,” Boyd said, adding that they didn’t know it would be Wednesday until the prior weekend.
According to Kenney, law enforcement had been given a heads up around 10 days prior, when it began coordinating with the Secret Service.
Murphy said that for Nova Guides, everything “finally coalesced together,” around Oct. 5 and 6.
“We were just scrambling from then on to get everything done as quickly as possible with all the different agencies that came in for it,” he added.
Mason said that while on Sunday, they knew it would likely happen on Wednesday, the Snowsports Museum and its partners at History Colorado and the Denver Public Library didn’t have all plans confirmed until the morning of.
Working with the History Colorado Center and Denver Public Library, Mason said staffers spent the days leading up coordinating what artifacts to bring as well as setting up on-site the day before.
“It was fun to be up there. I was there all day. I had to get there at 7 a.m. because we had to be set up before Secret Service did their sweep, so we had to be set up early,” Mason said.
Happy to help
Through coordination efforts and providing supplies, those in Eagle County involved with the historic day were happy to be a part of Colorado’s most recent presidential visit.
“It’s of course a really big deal to have a presidential visit on your unit, on your forest. In my career with the Forest Service and BLM, which is pushing 20 years, this is the first one I’ve been involved with and it was the first for most people,” Boyd said.
For Kenney, he said that, as a public servant, not only was it an honor to be able to “serve the highest office in the land and help the trip go smoothly” but that having the president see the site for himself was also exciting.
“It’s always good to have the president come here. I think it makes this area a little more personal to them if they can come up and lay their eyes on it,” Kenney said. “The purpose of the trip was extremely important and long overdue, and the men and women of Vail PD were really happy to help and be a part of it.”
This patriotic duty was something Vardaman also reported feeling.
“Although this is not the first time that we’ve provided support for presidents, vice presidents and other current and former world leaders, each visit is unique and we are genuinely honored to provide what we feel is our patriotic duty,” he said. “Our goal is to treat each and every patient with skilled, professional and compassionate care — whether they are a local resident or the president of the United States.”
Mason said that seeing the recognition of the area’s history, including of the Ute tribe and 10th Mountain Division, was a great celebration of the site’s designation.
“For me, Sen. Bennet and the way he talked about the 10th, he told it perfectly. The story sometimes gets muddied and muddled, and he told it perfectly,” she said.
The 10th Mountain Division’s history is one that includes the nearby ski resorts, which also were a part of Wednesday’s festivities.
“Vail Mountain has long celebrated our founder’s connection to the 10th Mountain Division,” said a spokesperson for Vail Resorts. “Vail Resorts along with Beaver Creek Resort are excited that The President designated Camp Hale the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument. We were proud to support this new National Monument, which honors our nation’s veterans and the Indigenous Ute Tribe, as well as the president’s visit to Eagle County for the dedication ceremony.”
As for Nova Guides, whose prominent location near the newest National Monument in the country could bring some changes, Murphy said the company “can’t wait for it.”
“Everyone was just over the moon for sure,” he added. “We’re expecting to see a surge of visitation of folks interested in hearing more about Camp Hale, the history — you name it across the board — with guided and unguided rentals here, especially heading into snowmobile season. The major thing is we just want to have more folks come out and be able to enjoy these lands, and now they’re protected in their current state for future generations to enjoy.”
This story is from VailDaily.com.
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