Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences

Camp Hale - Eagle River Collaborative Restoration on the White River National Forest

In 2013, the NFF embarked upon a collaborative effort to improve the wetland and stream ecology of the valley and to honor the rich military history of the Eagle River at Camp Hale.

Tucked into a high-elevation watershed along the west slope of the Continental Divide in central Colorado are the headwaters of the Eagle River, a prominent tributary of the Upper Colorado River. These waters flow from each winter’s snowpack and are the lifeblood of both human and ecological communities in Colorado.

Steven C. DeWitt-Jr.

The area is a year-round recreation mecca for camping, hiking, skiing, hunting, wildlife watching, and off-road vehicles. The headwaters of the Eagle River also provides a habitat for wildlife.

Camp Hale is also rich in ancient human history. The area bears the marks of centuries of habitation by Indigenous peoples who have called the region home since time immemorial and who referred to this area of the Rocky Mountains as Káava’avichi — meaning “mountains laying down.”

In 1942 the Eagle River headwaters, and the surrounding 240,000 acres, became a winter and mountain warfare training camp during World War II, housing up to 17,000 troops. At an elevation of 9,200 feet, the military established Camp Hale here because the natural setting included a large, flat wetland, surrounded by steep slopes suitable for training in skiing, rock climbing, and winter survival skills.

Later, after World War II, Camp Hale was also used by the C.I.A. to secretly train Tibetan soldiers to enter China over high mountain passes during the Cold War. The camp was deactivated in 1964 and returned to the U.S. Forest Service for management.

When the military established Camp Hale, they drained the large wetland surrounding the East and South Forks of the Eagle river, installed a sewage system, imported millions of cubic yards of fill, and channeled the meandering East and South Forks of the Eagle River headwaters into a linear three-mile ditch system that remains today.

Steven C. DeWitt Jr.

In 2013, the NFF and White River National Forest convened the “Camp Hale Stakeholders.” The group developed a shared vision to restore Camp Hale, including:

  • hundreds of acres of wetland restoration,
  • miles of stream channel development,
  • recreation infrastructure enhancements, and
  • historical and cultural storytelling and interpretation.

Working with key stakeholders, the NFF developed a historic interpretation plan to create a visitor experience focused on the cultural and historical significance of Camp Hale, including the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division.

We look forward to implementing this important work in the future in concert with the White River National Forest, Indigenous communities, and many local, regional, and national interests.


Emily Olsen, Rocky Mountain Region Director, at [email protected]