NewsCovering Colorado


Great Sand Dunes National Park expands by 9,362 acres

Great Sand Dunes
Posted at 5:46 PM, Oct 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-07 11:57:33-04

SAN LUIS VALLEY, CO — Thursday, October 6th The Nature Conservancy (TNC) with the help of the U.S. Department of the Interior announced a significant expansion of the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

The TNC announced that they are working with the Department of the Interior to transfer around 9,362 acres of land over to the National Park System to be included in the existing Great Sand Dunes National Park.

The land acquisition by the NPS was possible through the funding provided by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). In 2020, congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which increased LWCF funding to each state by $900 million a year for projects.

Since its creation in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has contributed to around 1,006 LWCF grants totaling more than $70 million have been awarded to state and local parks and recreation projects in Colorado. Below is a map of the projects and their locations.

The land acquired by the NPS was a part of the TNC's Medano-Zapata Ranch Preserve in the San Luis Valley,a key figure in helping the National Park System expand its Bison Conservation efforts. And it will continue to help the NPS as it expands its Bison Conservation programs in the San Luis Valley.

The land being transferred supports a rich diversity of wildlife including elk and wetlands used by many species of migratory birds. The land operated by the TNC was already within the park boundary but the transfer allows for the NPS to manage the property now all as one large interconnected landscape.

TNC will continue to own and manage the 20,000-acre property across Lane 6. The Nature Conservancy bought the Medano-Zapata Ranch in 1999 and soon developed
a plan to transfer some of the lands over to create the Great Sand Dunes, National Park.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park, with the Sangre de Cristo Range as a perfect backdrop

That became a reality in November 2000 when the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Park Passed establishing the park's boundaries. Around 12,498 acres of the Medano-Zapata Ranch lie within the boundaries of the park and the TNC plans on transferring the remaining 3,192 acres in the future.

"We are excited to complete this project and add to the spectacular Great Sand Dunes National Park,” said Nancy Fishbein, director of Resilient Lands for TNC in Colorado. “Protecting the Medano-Zapata Ranch and contributing to the creation of the national park are among the most significant successes in the history of TNC in Colorado.”

Coming in around 750 feet tall with an estimated 5 billion cubic meters of sand, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America.

When it comes to the formation of sand dunes. KOAA News5 meteorologist says, "We look to the creation of the San Luis Valley millions of years ago. Volcanic activity to the west created the San Juan Mountains, while tectonic plate shifts to the east created the Sangre De Cristos."

The valley that formed then filled with water over time, and that body of water, named Lake Alamosa, drained into the Rio Grande, leaving behind a bed of sand on the San Luis Valley floor.

Formation of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Southwest winds blew sand and piled it up overtime into the northeast corner of the Sand Luis Valley to create the Great Sand Dunes.

Winds out of the southwest over time then blew the sand into the northeast corner of the valley, creating the Great Sand Dunes as we know them now.

Today the park is one of the crown jewels of the Colorado Outdoors. Attracting visitors from all over the state, country, and even the world. The park offers magnificent views, epic wildlife, and plenty of recreation. With the acquisition of more land from TNC by the National Park Service the legacy of this unique environment and ecosystem continues to grow for more generations to come.

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