By Jeff Mason
LEADVILLE, Colo. (Reuters) -President Joe Biden on Wednesday declared a rugged, mountainous section of Colorado that American soldiers used to train for combat in World War Two a national monument during his first stop on a tour of the U.S. West.
Biden signed a proclamation establishing the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument to protect the 53,804-acre (21,770-hectare) area during a ceremony at the site. It was the first national monument declaration of his presidency.
The area has been home to Native Americans and was a training ground for soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division going into battle in the Italian Alps.
“When you think about the natural beauty of Colorado and the history of our nation, you find it here, more than 50,000 acres, including the 10-mile range, soaring peaks and steep canyons, black bears, bald eagles, moose, mountain lions, waterfalls, pristine rivers, alpine lakes,” Biden said.
Among those introducing Biden was Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, who helped lead the charge for the designation and is in a tight reelection race against Republican Joe O’Dea.
“Your designation means more Americans will come to appreciate the extraordinary history of this place, a place that goes back to before when Colorado was a state,” Bennet said.
Biden also announced that he is blocking new mining claims and mineral leases on approximately 225,000 acres (91,050 hectares) in the Thompson Divide area of western Colorado for at least two years and possibly for two decades.
Later this week, Biden will visit California and Oregon with a central aim of raising money for Democratic candidates trying to prevent Republicans from taking control of Congress in the Nov. 8 midterm elections.
After Colorado, Biden will travel to Santa Monica, California, for events Thursday and Friday in the Los Angeles area. On Friday, he will go to Portland, Oregon.
There, he will take part in a grassroots volunteer event with Oregon Democrats. On Saturday he will headline a reception for the Democratic candidate for governor, Tina Kotek.
(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Richard Pullin and Jonathan Oatis)