The Crestone Eagle, March 2003:

What to do with the Baca Ranch?
Management Plan meetings for Great Sand Dunes National Monument draws strong Crestone interest

by Linda Spade

The second in a series of four public meetings, soliciting input from the community regarding the General Management Plan for the Great Sand Dunes National Monument and Preserve, was held on Valentine’s Day at the Property Owners Association in Crestone.

“General Management Plans are foundation plans that help park managers guide programs and set priorities for resource stewardship, visitor understanding and appreciation, partnerships, facilities, and operations for the next 15-20 years.”

Approximately twenty Crestone community members attended the meeting, evincing interest in what will transpire with our very large (100,000 acres) neighbor to the south and what that impact will be on our community. Dunes Superintendent Steve Chaney introduced staff from the park, the Rio Grande National Forest and an independent consulting firm, e2M, which has been hired to assist the park service with the planning process. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to meet all these people and begin forming a relationship with them.

In what the park service terms the “discovery” phase of the management plan, initial ideas are gathered about what the plan should address. Steve Chaney invited the Crestone community members to comment on what their ideas and concerns were. Some of the issues that were duly recorded were: routes of public access, encroaching commercialism, increased tourism impact, access to the former Baca Ranch, hiking and mountain bike access from Cottonwood Creek, changes in irrigation practices, elk herd reduction and access to the lands under the Rio Grande National Forest portion of the preserve. The discovery phase of the management plan ends March 31. The NPS handed out a Comment Form to submit ideas and opinions on four topics:

1. What planning issues and opportunities do you think should be addressed by the Great Sand Dunes General Management Plan?
2. What do you think makes Great Sand Dunes National Monument and Preserve special?
3. What factual information should the National Park Service consider to determine whether new lands added to the park contain wilderness suitable areas?
4. What other thoughts or ideas would you like to share with the general management planning team?

You can respond online at http://planning.nps.gov/plans.cfm or mail your answers to:
Susy Stutzman
National Park Service
P.O. Box 25287
Denver, CO 80225-9812
Or call: (719) 378-2312 x 200.

The park is divided into zones where various activities can take place, Steve Chaney informed the meeting. Some of these areas allow hunting, mining and grazing. These would be on the Rio Grande National Forest addition to the east of the Baca Grande. Then you have the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, The National Monument and the National Preserve. There’s an excellent map of these showing the relation to the Baca at http://planning. nps.gov/plans.cfm.

Due to the creative financing necessary to buy the Baca Ranch, the Colorado State Land Board will be leasing the management of the former Baca Ranch for grazing, raising hay and elk hunting for the next two to three years. There have been many inquiries about hiking or mountain biking across the ranch, and apparently that won’t be possible while the state land board is managing it. If you are interested in the management of the former Baca Ranch, you can contact Kit Page at the Colorado Land Board in Alamosa at 589-2360.

Concurrently, the Rio Grande National Forest is conducting a planning effort after the acquisition of the Baca Ranch for the northeast portion of the ranch. The transfer of title of the Baca Ranch is expected between now and the end of April.

Key issues to be determined are access (roads and trails), trailheads (how many and where), recreation impacts, wildlife, management of the two 14,000 ft. peaks, encroachment along private land boundary, water rights and use, mineral estate and oil and gas exploration.

The national forest is requesting public comment on these issues be mailed to:
United States Forest Service
Rio Grande National Forest
1803 West Hwy 160
Monte Vista, CO 81144
email: <mailroom_r2_rio_ grande@fs.fed.us>
Fax: (719) 852-6250

No deadline for comment period was mentioned.

These are public lands and you have an opportunity to be involved. As Superintendent Steve Cheney said, the creation of the Great Sand Dunes National Park was one of the largest citizen-based efforts undertaken. The staffs at the National Park Service, National Forest Service, and State Land Board are working hard. Let’s give them our support.

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