9,362 acres of the Medano Ranch transferred from The Nature Conservancy


THE Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve just got bigger. U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland was at the national park on Thursday to formally accept the transfer of 9,362 acres of the Medano-Zapata Ranch Preserve from The Nature Conservancy.

“Protecting Medano-Zapata Ranch and contributing to the creation of the spectacular Great Sand Dunes National Park are among the most significant successes in the history of TNC in Colorado,” said Nancy Fishbein, director of resilient lands for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado.

“The land being transferred supports a rich diversity of wildlife, including elk, and wetlands used by many species of migratory birds. The parcels have been inholdings within the park boundary, and the transfer will enable the NPS to manage the property as one large, connected landscape,” The Nature Conservancy wrote about the news.

“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.”

Here’s more from The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Interior Department on the announcement.

The acquisition by the National Park Service was aided by funding provided by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the parties said.

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. Approximately 12,498 acres of the Medano-Zapata Ranch lie within the boundaries of Great Sand Dunes National Park, The Nature Conservancy said. It said it plans to transfer the remaining 3,192 acres to NPS in the future.

“TNC will continue to own and manage the 20,000-acre Zapata property across Lane 6, currently operated by TNC’s lessee, Ranchlands LLC. Through their guest services, education and outreach functions, TNC plans to remain a member of and support the San Luis Valley community. TNC will also continue to work closely on cooperative land stewardship efforts with NPS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, managers of the adjacent Baca National Wildlife Refuge,” The Nature Conservancy said.

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.”

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.

PHOTO: U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland at the Great Sand Dunes on Thursday. Photo courtesy The Nature Conservancy.

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