Department of the Interior

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Office of the Secretary
Contact:John Wright
For Immediate Release, Sept. 13, 2004

Secretary Norton Creates Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and Baca National Wildlife Refuge

New Park is the Nation's 58th; Wildlife Refuge is Colorado's Largest


MOSCA, Colorado --- Amid the tallest sand dunes in North America with breathtaking views, rare plant and animal life and rich geological and cultural history, Secretary of the Interior Gale A. Norton today signed historic documents creating the Great Sand Dunes National Park, the nation's 58th national park. The new park is in Southern Colorado's San Luis Valley near the Sangre De Cristo Mountains.

At the same time, Secretary Norton also announced the creation of the new Baca National Wildlife Refuge adjacent to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

Both actions were made possible when the Department of the Interior last Friday reached agreement on acquisition and management of the 97,000 acre Baca Ranch.
Some 31,000 acres of the Baca Ranch are being made part of the new Great Sand Dunes National Park. The remaining acres will be transferred to the Baca National Wildlife Refuge.

Norton's action today implemented a law authorizing the Secretary to create the Sand Dunes National park once she determined that "sufficient land having a sufficient diversity of resources" warranted a national park designation. The law was authored by Senators Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Rep. Scott McInnis.

"Today we dedicate and proclaim a new national park to forever preserve a landscape sculpted by wind and water and we introduce what now becomes the largest national wildlife refuge in Colorado," Norton said. "This area is a haven for wildlife and wonder to modern day visitors.

"The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is a living hourglass. The ebb and flow of rushing wind and pulsing water sweeps across the landscape, creating a natural sculpture worthy of permanent preservation."

Norton said that the creation of Colorado's fourth national park and its largest wildlife refuge was inspired by the people of San Luis Valley. Colorado state and local leaders

worked with Senators Allard and Campbell and Rep. McInnis to pass the legislation authorizing the Secretary to create the park. Great Sand Dunes National Park becomes the first park created by a Secretarial determination.

"The Great Sand Dunes National Park is a shining example of the cooperative conservation ethic endorsed and promoted by President Bush," Norton said.

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve joins the roster of national parks that include Yosemite, Yellowstone, Denali, Rocky Mountain and Acadia. These national parks are loved by Americans and envied by the entire world. The dual mission of the National Park System has been to provide enjoyment for current visitors and preserve resources unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. "This new park must fulfill both of these charges," Norton said. "It will be a sanctuary and a place of recreation. More visitors will journey here and will leave inspired."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take charge of the largest share of the Baca Ranch, and manage it as the Baca National Wildlife Refuge. "These expert wildlife managers will protect and enhance the existing wetlands habitat for an incredible variety of migratory birds," Norton said.

Completing the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is 14,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service Land that includes a 14,000-foot peak that forms part of the majestic skyline for this area.

One of the significant aspects of the creation of this new national park is its ability to protect the overall ecosystem, including groundwater. The entire San Luis Valley benefits from groundwater that is close to the surface. Others sought this water and the Baca Ranch became a focal point of this controversy. The citizens of San Luis Valley united in opposition to efforts to export Baca Ranch water out of the valley.

Through court fights and other efforts, the citizens of San Luis Valley successfully protected for the short-term the water beneath the dune that is the lifeblood that protects the livelihoods of those in the valley. Valley citizens also looked for a way to permanently protect the dunes and wetlands. This led to the enactment of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act. That law expanded the park boundaries by 70,000 acres and transferred land from the U.S. Forest Service to the National Park Service. It authorized the government to purchase lands and land rights within the monument. It required the federal government to follow state procedures in establishing water rights.

The law also gave the Secretary of the Interior authority to designate the area as a national park once sufficient land with sufficient diversity of resources had been acquired.

Norton credited The Nature Conservancy for its efforts to acquire the Baca Ranch. "The Nature Conservancy stepped in and negotiated to buy the ranch and provided interim
funding until federal appropriations could be obtained," Norton said. "Without its help, this golden opportunity might have been lost."

Today's action by Norton is another step in the long history to protect the great sand dunes. In 1807, explorer Zebulon Pike, for whom Pike's Peak in Colorado Springs is named, recorded the earliest known description of the Great Sand Dunes as a "sea in a storm, except as to color, not the least sign of vegetation existing."

As early as the 1920s, instigated by a women's group from the San Luis Valley, Americans were moved to preserve the dunes, and President Hoover declared them a national monument in 1932. Boundaries of the monument were expanded in the 1940s, 1950s and the 1970s.

Additional Resources:
A History of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Baca National Wildlife Refuge Facts



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