Crestone Eagle, November 2004:
Living with ‘new’ neighbors—Sand Dunes officials discuss Baca Ranch transfer & access at public meetings
by Lisa Cyriacks
Members of the National Park Service, US Fish
& Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, and the Nature
Conservancy hosted a public meeting October 18 at the Desert
Sage. About 30 residents of the area attended.
Steve Chaney, the Superintendent of the Great Sand Dunes
National Park and Preserve gave an update to those present.
Currently, the lands south of the subdivision have been transferred
to Park ownership, and Gary Boyce of Vaca Partners has been
given ninety (90) days, starting from September 15, to close
down operations. Signs defining limitations on access have
been installed at various access points along the southern
boundary of the subdivision.
Park Rangers have already begun the process of approaching
residents along the boundaries in order to request assistance
in identifying problems with trespass. Administrative access
will be at the south end of Camino Baca Grande (the old Liberty
Postal Road). Some backhoe work will be required for 4WD access,
which will be taking place sometime in the next few weeks.
People in attendance had a wide variety of questions, but
of primary concern was northern access to the National Park
and where that access would be located.
Possibilities for access that came up at the meeting were:
• Using the secondary access deeded to the POA in 1971,
which would skirt the western edge of Chalet I and lead into
the north edge of the Grants;
• Using access through the current ranch headquarters
along the entire western edge of the Grants;
• Using the southern portion of Road 66T, also known
as the Lexam Road, to the Alpine Camp;
• Access around Hooper, but the cost of constructing
17 miles of road could be prohibitive;
• The roads within the subdivision are still listed.
The Park Service and other agencies have heard our concerns.
When queried as to why not just removing roads within the
subdivision as an option, Mr. Chaney indicated that they were
covering all bases, leaving it on the books to show that it
had been considered and rejected. He indicated that the survey
response on management alternatives showed strong support
for maximizing wilderness.
The Baca Refuge
Mike Blenden, District Manager of the US Fish and Wildlife
Service, prefaced his comments with the statement that natural
resource management is primary to the function of all federal
agencies and The Nature Conservancy. Planning for access to
the Refuge has been inhibited by no access or limited access
to the Baca Ranch until very recently. Plus, the inclusion
of various agencies with different objectives has made decisions
related to access interesting, to say the least.
Mr. Blenden said that the Fish & Wildlife Service has
filters for considering access—wildlife dependent uses
such as wildlife viewing, hunting, fishing, and photography.
He stated that Fish & Wildlife would not create a road
just for vehicle access to the National Park. Public vehicle
(2WD) access to the Ranch would require substantial improvements.
Current roads, with the exception of the Lexam Road, are unimproved.
Public access without improvements would result in substantial
Since it is a real possibility that any trailhead for access
to the National Park will be located on the Refuge, Mr. Blenden
has been giving some consideration to what factors could affect
that decision. The Refuge has the option of creating usage
patterns based on seasonal use of existing roads to minimize
damage, or limiting numbers of vehicles or the types of vehicles.
The planning process has not yet begun for the Baca Refuge.
Robert Philleo brought up the question of whether or not the
Federal Government would be selling the water rights to the
Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District. The District currently
has a water service agreement with Cabeza de Vaca. Under the
legislation, the federal agencies are required to honor this
agreement. Currently The Nature Conservancy is the owner of
the rights. Upon final purchase US Fish and Wildlife will
be the primary owner. No plans are currently being considered
to change the existing usage.
Access and parking
When the north boundary of the Park opens on December 15,
residents at the south end of the subdivision have real concerns
about road usage and parking of cars, as hikers set off across
newly opened territory. It is clear that regardless of access
decisions made by federal agencies, the subdivision (or County,
which has not been asked) will have the responsibility for
enforcement within the subdivision boundary. The agencies
represented only have jurisdiction outside the subdivision
boundary. All three agencies and The Nature Conservancy are
interested in cooperation and supporting the residents of
the Baca Grande in their decisions relating to access. Those
decisions just need to be made.
Some discussion ensued as to whether or not roads within
the subdivision that extend to the boundary could be vacated
by the County and what benefit that would yield to residents.
Also whether or not the Park Service could assist by providing
parking areas just across the boundary.
Parking and trailhead access
Tom Goodwin, of the US Forest Service, reported that his agency
is in the process of applying for a planning grant from GOCO.
Specifically, the concern already exists about access at Spanish
Creek and Cottonwood Creek. His experience shows that planning
is better to minimize impact and stressed that funding is
key to the planning process.
Members of the audience stressed the importance of protecting
the spiritual centers and their activities in the community,
including honoring the long-term commitment of individuals
in the community to create these centers.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service does allow hunting on its
lands, and of primary concern is providing access to the Forest
Service lands south of the subdivision.
Residents of Hooper that were present stated that they had
no particular desire to drive across the sand sheet, but would
like access to the mountains for hunting and fishing. They
remembered years ago being able to cross on two track roads
and had the final word of the meeting: “There’s
nothing out there but sand.”
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