November 22, 2000
After years of consideration, Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes was slated to became a national park as President Clinton signed the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act. The designation is contigent upon the completion of land acquisitions to increase the size of the park, which is now a national monument.
The dunes, in the San Luis Valley of south-central Colorado, are among the most biologically significant areas in Colorado, where 700-foot-high dunes rise against the backdrop of the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains. President Hoover established the area as a national monument in 1932 and it was later enlarged by Presidents Truman and Eisenhower.
The Great Sand Dunes National Monument, together with associated sand sheet and adjacent wetlands and uplands, contains a variety of rare ecological, geological, paleontological, archaeological, scenic, historical and wildlife elements.
Plants found in the dunes include Indian rice grass, scurf pea and the prairie sunflower, as well as the largest known stand of ponderosa pine trees in the United States bearing ancient tribal markings. Animals include golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, mountain bluebirds, kangaroo rats, ground squirrels and mule deer. Rare archaeological sites, evidence of nomadic hunters, date back 11,000 years.
The sand sheet, surrounding watershed and underground aquifer all contribute to the water flow and sand replenishment that maintains the dunes. Expanding the boundaries of the 30,000-acre national monument to include the entire natural system, as provided for the legislation signed by Clinton, will help to ensure the long-term preservation of the dunes.
The President requested, and Congress provided, $8.4 million in this the 2000 federal budget toward the acquisition of the 100,000-acre Baca Ranch, which adds to Great Sand Dunes National Monument the size and diversity necessary to establish the Great Sand Dunes National Park. In addition, the legislation establishes the Great Sand Dunes Preserve adjacent to the national park through a land transfer from the U.S. Forest Service. The National Park Service also will administer this preserve, which will remain open to hunters.
Soon after the designation, a Denver newspaper reported that Canada-based Lexam Explorations may drill two exploration wells southeast of Crestone on the edge of Baca Ranch in search of natural gas.
The San Luis Valley’s vast underground water reserves have long been coveted by sprawling Front Range metro Denver suburbs.