The Army connection of two new US National Monuments
As of the writing of this article, the United States has 133 national monuments. These protected areas can be established by the president by presidential proclamation or by Congress through legislation. The first national monument, Devils Tower in Wyoming, was established by President Theodore Roosevelt. Most national monuments are managed by the National Park Service or the Bureau of Land Management under the Department of the Interior. However, a newly-established national monument is managed by the U.S. Army while another is strongly linked with Army history.
In 1942, the Army constructed Camp Hale, Colorado as a mountain warfare training facility. At 9,200 feet above sea level, the camp trained soldiers in mountain climbing, skiing and cold-weather survival. Future Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman was a training planner at Camp Hale and served in the 10th Mountain Division formed there. At its peak, 15,000 soldiers were stationed at Camp Hale, which deployed three mountain infantry regiments during WWII. The camp also housed roughly 400 German POWs.
In November 1945, Camp Hale was deactivated. However, in February 1963, the CIA used the site to train Tibetan operatives for anti-Chinese operations. The cold and mountainous terrain simulated the Himalayas and the agency spread a story that the former Camp Hale was being used as an atomic testing site to dissuade peering eyes. In 1964, the training site was dismantled. The next year, Camp Hale was deeded to the U.S. Forest Service which has managed the area since. In 2019, Camp Hale was proposed to be designated a National Historic Landscape to preserve 28,728 acres. A bill was introduced in Congress to establish a national monument but ultimately stalled. On October 12, 2022, President Joe Biden visited Camp Hale and declared it a national monument: the 53,804-acre Camp Hale – Continental Divide National Monument.
In 2023, another Army site was declared a national monument. Located in El Paso County, Texas, the Castner Range National Monument encompasses 6,672 acres of the Chihuahua Desert's Franklin Mountains. Unlike the Camp Hale – Continental Divide National Monument, Castner Range is on an active base and is managed by the U.S. Army. One of three national monuments managed by the Department of Defense, it is the only one that serves as a land conservation. Castner Range National Monument was established by President Biden on March 21, 2023.
From 1926 to 1966, Castner Range was used as a weapons test site for Fort Bliss. Soldiers used the site to test and train on air defense missiles, anti-tank weapons and guided missiles. Advocacy for the preservation of the land was strong. It hosts 41 archaeological sites, some of which show evidence of human presence dating back to 6,000 BC. Rock art, pottery and burial sites have been discovered. Additionally, Castner Range holds historical importance for the Apache, Pueblo, Comanche, Hopi and Kiowa peoples. The national monument remains closed to the public as the Army continues to remove unexploded ordnance.