Efforts to preserve Camp Hale ‘important’ to veterans, public
When Garett Reppenhagen returned from Iraq, the need to process the trauma of war led him into Colorado’s backcountry.
“My natural instinct was to get outdoors,” he said Friday. “The outdoors became this massive healing thing for me. Without it, I don’t think I would have survived.”
One of the special healing places Reppenhagen discovered was Camp Hale, the garrison built in a large meadow between Leadville and Minturn for the burgeoning 10th Mountain Division in the early 1940s. The high alpine beauty — it’s located below Tennessee Pass at an altitude of 9,200 feet — coupled with the rich military history makes it especially meaningful to veterans, he said.
“I ran all over that place,” said Reppenhagen, a native of Green Mountain Falls near Colorado Springs. “I (can) kind of sit in reflection and I see where (I am) in the lineage of warfare coming out of this country. More than any other place, Camp Hale has that connection.”
Reppenhagen — who comes from a military family with connections to World War II and Vietnam — soon realized that other veterans could benefit from his outdoor experience. He began taking other vets to Camp Hale, the 10th Mountain Division Huts and other areas in Colorado, and was impressed with the results.
“I saw challenges compel veterans to overcome mental health and physical injuries,” he said. “I saw some kind of healing. It was just amazing.”
Reppenhagen and others — including Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman — want to ensure Camp Hale is protected in perpetuity through a new federal land designation called a National Historic Landscape. The Camp Hale Legacy Act, which includes the new designation, is part of Bennet’s Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act — introduced with Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Boulder) — which includes protections for 400,000 total acres, including Camp Hale’s approximately 28,000 acres.
“I want to preserve (Camp Hale),” said Reppenhagen, now the Rocky Mountain director for Vet Voice Foundation. “I’ve talked to a lot of 10th Mountain Division vets … and we’re losing more every day. To have that ground protected … is important.”
The National Historic Landscape designation is less restrictive than a national wilderness. It would mean the mountain bike, snowmobile and other recreational activities could continue on Camp Hale lands, though the acreage would be protected from resource extraction and development.
The Camp Hale land to be protected is already designated national forest, said Will Roush, executive director of the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop.
“Nowhere is private land or state land being converted,” he said. “It’s basically Congress saying, ‘This is special and manage it this way.’”
Other parts of the CORE Act would create 73,000 new acres of national wilderness in Summit and Eagle counties and in the San Juans, as well as protect 200,000 acres of the Thompson Divide from mineral extraction, Roush said.
The CORE Act has a broad range of supporters, while opposition has come from groups opposed to some of the Act’s constraints including the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, the Colorado Snowmobile Association and the Trail Preservation Alliance. Garfield County commissioners have come out against the CORE Act because of the mineral extraction limits in the Thompson Divide, though they have waffled a bit lately on the issue.
The U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee held the first hearingon the CORE Act in early April, when Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) was asked to preside over the hearing despite not being a member of the committee. Tipton acknowledged hearing a lot of support for the act among his constituents, though he said opposition voices need to be heard, as well.
Roush said he feels good about the bill’s chances for passing because of the broad coalition of support it has.
Poschman, chair of the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners and an Aspen native, is a big supporter of the CORE Act, and, in particular, the Camp Hale portion of it. His father, Sgt. Harry Poschman, was an avid skier and early member of the 10th Mountain Division, who arrived at Camp Hale soon after it was established in 1942.
“His job was to teach the generals on down to privates how to ski,” Poschman said. “He loved it. It was like a ski club. They got to live in separate barracks. They got to go to Denver on weekends. It was a plum job.”
They’d also come over to Aspen on occasion, stay at the Hotel Jerome and ski Aspen Mountain, he said.
Sgt. Poschman shipped out in 1943 and participated in “horrendous, epic and terrifying” battles in Italy, particularly the 1945 fight for Mount Belvedere in the Apennine Mountains, he said.
“He said, ‘If I survive this, then I just want to ski,’” Poschman said.
As it turned out — like other members of the 10th Mountain Division — he did, and he did.
Harry Poschman came to Aspen in 1947, signed on as a laborer and helped build the original Lift 1A and clear ski trails on Aspen Mountain’s west side, his son said.
He later met his wife — another ski bum — in Alta, Utah, and together they moved to Aspen in 1950, where he lived for most of the rest of his life.
In participating in the growing outdoor recreation business, Harry Poschman took his modest place in a 10th Mountain Division legacy that includes the first executive director of the Sierra Club, the founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School and men who started several American ski areas including Arapahoe Basin and Vail. Famed Aspen architect Fritz Benedict, also a 10th Mountain veteran, was instrumental in founding the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association.
Harry Poschman, who died 12 years ago, didn’t start talking about his wartime experiences until the mid-1980s, Greg Poschman said, but clearly retained a soft spot for Camp Hale.
“His best ski buddies were the mountain training guys he trained with at Camp Hale,” Poschman said. “I think he’d be all over (the effort to preserve it).”
Reppenhagen said Harry Poschman was like many 10th Mountain veterans, who returned home and, consciously or not, processed the trauma of war through the great outdoors.
“It’s no surprise that veterans wanted to be outdoors,” he said, “especially winter recreation.”
So not only would the preservation of Camp Hale — which housed as many as 14,000 men during its heyday — help veterans heal and connect with the past, it also would endow it as a public memorial, Reppenhagen said.
“It allows others to understand the sacrifice military veterans have made for this country,” he said. “We should provide other spaces for veterans to get outside and heal.”
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