Today, the U.S. Department of the Interior and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) announced the transfer of approximately 9,362 acres of land at TNC’s Medano-Zapata Ranch Preserve in the San Luis Valley to the National Park Service (NPS) for inclusion in Great Sand Dunes National Park. This is the latest chapter of a land conservation project that began decades ago with the national park’s creation.
The acquisition by NPS was made possible through funding provided by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF is the nation’s most important conservation and recreation program, supporting various benefits from landscape conservation and habitat protection to outdoor recreation access for all and so much more. In 2020, Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which made funding for the program permanent. TNC continues working with its partners in Congress and the administration to increase LWCF funding as project demand in every state and county continues to far outstrip the $900 million a year in available funding.
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.
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, designating the park and its established boundaries. Since that time, TNC has been working 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-Zapata Ranch lie within the boundaries of Great Sand Dunes National Park; TNC 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 is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 70 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.