MOSCA, Colo – Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and National Park Service (NPS) Director Chuck Sams today celebrated the transfer of approximately 9,362 acres of the Medano Ranch from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to Great Sand Dunes National Park. The acquisition was made possible through funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This enhancement of the national park will allow for more holistic management as a connected landscape and provides long-term protection areas that contribute to the formation of the dune field.
“Great Sand Dunes and The Nature Conservancy have built a model for collaboration that will help guarantee that future generations have access to this special place,” said Secretary Haaland. “This acquisition underscores the central role that locally led conservation efforts play in the Biden-Harris administration’s America the Beautiful initiative and our ongoing efforts to conserve, connect and restore public lands and waters.”
Great Sand Dunes National Park was established as a national monument in 1932 and redesignated as a national park and preserve in 2000 to protect the tallest dunes in North America for current and future generations. The dunes are the centerpiece in a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, forests, alpine lakes and tundra. Last year, more than 603,000 visitors came to experience the singular dunes and starry skies,and learn about the cultural history. In 2021, park visitors spent an estimated $41.3 million in local gateway regions while visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, supporting more than 530 jobs.
“The lands being transferred to the Park contain important springs and wetlands that support a rich diversity of life,” said Great Sand Dunes National Park Superintendent Pamela Rice. “This acquisition marks an important step toward completing the plan for Great Sand Dunes National Park that was established in 2004.”
“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 The Nature Conservancy 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.”
Currently, TNC operates a bison herd on the ranch property through a permit from NPS. This operation will continue for up to seven years following the current acquisition while TNC determines future plans for their conservation herd. TNC will continue to own and manage the 20,000-acre Zapata property that is adjacent to the national park.
This acquisition continues a long-standing partnership between NPS and TNC to expand Great Sand Dunes. TNC purchased the Medano-Zapata Ranch in 1999 and soon after developed the plan to transfer some of the acquired land for the creation of Great Sand Dunes National Park. In November 2000, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act passed, which more than quadrupled the size of Great Sand Dunes. Since that time, TNC has worked collaboratively with NPS to manage the inholdings with the hope that the additional parcels would eventually be transferred to the Park. Approximately 12,498 acres of the Medano Ranch lie within the boundaries of Great Sand Dunes National Park; TNC plans to transfer the remaining 3,192 acres in the future.
The LWCF was established by Congress in 1964 to fulfill a bipartisan commitment to safeguard natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. The Great American Outdoors Act authorized permanent funding of LWCF at $900 million annually to improve recreational opportunities on public lands, protect watersheds and wildlife, and preserve ecosystem benefits for local communities. The LWCF has funded $4 billion worth of projects in every county in the country for over 50 years.
Secretary Haaland also visited Browns Canyon National Monument in Chaffee County, Colorado. The Secretary met with local leaders as well as Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff to discuss how the 2015 national monument designation has helped strengthen the local economy and elevated the area as a magnet for outdoor recreation. They also highlighted recent fire management strategies that have led to reduced wildland fuels in Chaffee County and surrounding areas in the Arkansas River Valley region.