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Camp Amache, Sell or Keep? Granada Residents Receive Options on Benefits or Drawbacks

Camp Amache Main Entrance

Granada Trustees held an informal town meeting, Wednesday, September 20th, to lay out the options of selling Camp Amache to the National Park Service or trying to maintain it as is.

There were about two dozen residents at the Complex to learn more about the issue. Mayor Glenn Otto presided over the meeting and laid out some specifics for those attending which included the majority of the Town Trustees.

Camp Amache is comprised of about 640 acres of land due west of Granada. In the 1940s, land was used to build a relocation center which held as many as 7,000 Japanese-Americans who were taken from their west coast homes for the duration of World War II.  Amache was one of several such camps erected in the country.  The site has been visited by many descendants of the internees over the years, including one large annual gathering.  Granada has developed a museum which contains many artifacts from the original site and is, according to John Hopper, the most pristine site in the country for historical interest and reference.

Some time ago, the Granada Trustees approached the National Park Service, inquiring if the federal government would be willing to designate the site as having national historic relevance and maintaining the acreage for future tourist development.

A resolution to that effect would be placed before the U.S. Congress for a vote and presidential approval. Mayor Otto explained that the town would be able to dictate the terms of the sale, retaining mineral and water surface rights as well as ownership of the town’s landfill, road system, town wells and the Arena.  He added that all or just a portion of the 640 acres could be sold.  Trustee Argie Thrall asked if a 100 year lease would work just as well.  Otto replied that a lease means the town would be responsible for salaries of park personnel and the required upkeep.  He believed as many as six to eight jobs could be created with the National Park Service, comparable to the Sand Creek Site in Kiowa County.

Otto said for the sale to go through, residents would vote in an April election, yes or no. The ballot information would be the same that would go before congress for its own vote.  “We’re in pretty good shape to set our terms on this,” he added, stating that the sale has bi-partisan support in Colorado as U.S. Senators Gardner and Bennet are in mutual support, as well as State Senator Larry Crowder.  Gardner recently toured the site and the museum with curator John Hopper and several Granada students who have been working to maintain the site, Hopper for numerous years.  Gardner’s representative, Kathy Garcia, had planned to attend, but was not able to make the meeting.

“I’m retiring soon and I’m not going to devote as much time as I have on Amache,” Hopper told the audience Wednesday night. The site consists of mostly open land off Highway 50 and other than a small road sign, there is little evidence of its presence for passers-by.  A guard tower and a water tower have been rebuilt, along with a former barracks and a cemetery is maintained by the students, volunteers and Hopper.  No monetary figure has been mentioned at this time, but some townspeople feel that if the federal government takes over the land, the contract should include various upgrades to the community’s infrastructure.  The landfill’s future has been a prime topic for discussion by Granada Trustees and they will opt to preserve local access to it should the sale go through.  Otto said the town would still retain the grass and tree dump, no matter the outcome along with the town’s wells.

Chris Choate asked Otto what would be the next steps to follow? “Letters of support from local residents as well as our own county commissioners, businesses, other towns and their representatives would all be included to the senators who will write up the legislation,” he replied.  Senator Gardner said he would be open to scripted segments from local townspeople and invited some of the students to take part in that process.

There were several voices opposed to the sale, mostly issues with having to trust in, and deal with the government. “Anytime you get government involved around here it ain’t a good deal.  Government makes for lousy neighbors; they may be okay across the board, but they make lousy neighbors,” stated one local resident, who doubted that any jobs would be created.  Those who doubted the sale said they had concerns that the government would find some way to alter terms of the agreement even though the town reached out to the NPS and not the other way around.  Others believed it would be a good deal for potential economic growth for the community and a way to preserve the history of the camp for future generations.  There was no discussion of what would become of the former camp or museum once John Hopper retired from the Granada School system.

Hopper noted the sale to the NPS would be a means by which Camp Amache could fall under the same historical umbrella that now exists for Bent’s Old Fort and Sand Creek. “There are about 24,000 visitors that go to Bent’s Fort every year and those interested in our local history could be willing to make the visit to Sand Creek and to Granada for that kind of visit.”  To the doubters, he said you have to have faith that this will be beneficial to the community.  Several others said they attended the meeting for information about the project but will be undecided until they learn more.

Otto said the next step will be letters of support and developing information that the senators can use to develop legislation as well as a site survey and survey assessment by the National Park Service.

By Russ Baldwin

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