At first I thought it was just another conspiracy theory. Former Colorado Springs police intelligence analyst Susie Stepanek speculates that the U.S. government built a secret mountain airfield near U.S. Highway 24 in Park County for the purpose of shuttling guerilla soldiers to Tibet from Colorado to resist the Chinese occupation of the 1950s.
Yeah ... and little green space carnivores are butchering cattle in the San Luis Valley.
But Stepanek makes a compelling case. Since 2003, she has served as a local history and genealogy specialist working with Carnegie Special Collections at the Pikes Peak Library District, where she answers questions from patrons interested in Colorado history.
"One day I got an e-mail asking what was up with this airstrip in Park County," she says. "When I looked for it on an official Web site of abandoned areas, it wasn't there."
Her curiosity led her to the history books. Residents of the area, which includes South Park, claim the Army built an airstrip in 1954. Official sources say the airstrip was built for use during either the Korean or Vietnam wars. "But," Stepanek says, "the dates on maps that show the airstrip do not coincide with the dates of those conflicts. And, besides, those wars were not secret operations. Why would they be using a secret airfield?"
The maps and stories do correlate, however, with Tibetan rebellions of the 1950s. In the early '50s, the communist Chinese government began forcing social and political policies on the Tibetan people. The CIA reacted by secretly flying Tibetans into Colorado, training them at Camp Hale north of Leadville, and flying them back to Tibet as a resistance force between 1959 and 1964. But did they use the Park County airfield? If so, CIA involvement in the conflict may have begun years earlier.
This is Stepanek's first lecture on the subject. "My goal is to get the truth out there," she says. She believes that Tibet's right to exist as a sovereign country depends on the accuracy of historical record.
"I don't know if Tibet is ever going to be free," she admits. "China redrew the map. They rewrote history. As a historian, that disturbs me."