Crestone Eagle, August 2005:
Dunes National Park Council selects ‘wilderness’ as preferred alternative for study
by Lisa Cyriacks
National Park Advisory Council met July 8 at the Sand Dunes
Visitor Center to select a preferred alternative Management
Plan. The Council after three hours of meeting and discussion
went with the park service staffs’ and consultants’
recommendation for the preferred alternative.
Council Chair, Robert Ogburn, summarized “the heart
of the proposed alternative is the wilderness designation.”
This wilderness designation means that most of the park and
preserve will remain wild and undeveloped, allowing natural
processes to continue with minimal human influence. This is
the highest level of protective designation status that can
be given to public lands. Chair Ogburn emphasized in his statements:
”the intent of the alternative was to engender political
support to not commercialize this area, but focus on the wilderness
Park Administrator, Steve Chaney, stated that ultimately
the decision was made from the necessity of economic restraints
and the focus on resource protection. The plan provides enough
flexibility to provide interface for whatever alternatives
develop. The back country designation along the foot of the
mountain range leaves the option for trails, not roads.
The alternative, if approved, would also bring changes to
the developed areas east of the Dunefield, the northwestern
tip of the newly acquired parkland, and the Medano Ranch,
once that property changes hands from The Nature Conservancy.
No off-highway vehicle use would be added. The current vehicle
use on the Medano Pass Road would be maintained. New bike
lanes and a bike path connecting the Pinyon Flats campground
to the Visitor Center parking lot would be added. The park
station entrance would be moved closer to the park boundary.
The Medano Ranch would be used for administrative purposes,
with public access limited to guided tours and educational
programs. The area including Big Spring and Little Spring
would be designated “Guided Learning”. Visitors’
activities would include interpretive and educational tours
on horseback or on foot. Alterations to the landscape would
be minimal as required to protect resources from negative
The northwestern tip would become a backcountry access zone,
and would be excluded from the wilderness designation. This
area could include a trailhead, a primitive campsite with
basic amenities; and would allow visitor access to the park
from the north boundary.
Currently the only existing access to the National Park from
the north is to use public roads located in the Baca Grande
subdivision. The preferred alternative’s inclusion of
a backcountry access zone, located on the boundary of the
subdivision and the park, could use a road through the Baca
National Wildlife Refuge for access, or the subdivision roads.
Should this alternative be approved, it would be up to Saguache
County Commissioners and the Baca Grande Property Owners to
extend and improve roads for access to the Alpine Camp.
Park planning consultant, Miki Stuebe: “Inclusion of
the north backcountry access option has left us flexibility
for planning in the future.” Chair Ogburn, reiterated
that the inclusion of the option was not a guarantee that
a northern access road would be built, nor was it the Advisory
Council’s decision to make a decision where such a road
could be built. He stressed, “It is not even under consideration,
due to the wilderness designation, for a “super highway”
from the Baca to the Dunefield.”
The meeting on July 8 included a public comment period. Several
residents were in attendance to express their ongoing concerns
about access to the north edge of the National Park. In response
to an earlier motion by Advisory Council Member and former
BGPOA President, Robert Philleo, Chris Canaly, also an Advisory
Council member, made a motion to rescind Philleo’s earlier
motion that she felt made the route through the subdivision
“a priority of focus”. Her motion died, due to
lack of a second.
Canaly, speaking on behalf of the Baca Grande community,
expressed their interest in assuming the role of managing
the boundary and taking responsibility for the parking issues
in the subdivision. Since the land became public last year,
parking of vehicles is already occurring within the subdivision
boundary and the community wants the opportunity to deal with
the issue autonomously.
Christian Dillo, speaking for the newly formed Crestone Spiritual
Alliance, spoke in opposition to a northern entrance through
the Baca Grande subdivision or immediately adjacent land.
“Crestone is unique not only for its wilderness and
beauty but as the home of more different meditative, spiritual,
and religious organizations than maybe any rural place in
the world. Both of these aspects—nature and sincere
spiritual practice—deserve to be preserved. Let’s
be aware that there are not many places left like this on
Saguache County Commissioner Sam Pace, in an emotional speech,
reminded the Advisory Council of the longterm history of the
creation of the Park and the support of the Crestone/Baca
area for the Park. “We were behind it from the beginning.
We were behind it to stop the water from being exported from
the Valley. We did it to support the ag community.”
His further comments reflected that the Crestone/Baca community
is not unwilling to compromise, that perhaps the best way
to handle the northern access is to not have any at all. “But
I don’t particularly mind the backcountry access area”
Local Baca resident, Linda Eickhoff, urged the importance
of leaving options open as we move through a planning process
and encouraged all involved to engage in creative thinking.
The best alternative has not evolved yet. Her sentiments were
echoed by several others making comments.
The meeting concluded with a motion by Mike Spearman, Saguache
County Commissioner, to accept the preferred alternative as
presented by the park staff and consultants. The motion passed
unanimously. Advisory Council Chair, Robert Ogburn, reiterated
his earlier remarks. “The heart of this proposal is
the wilderness. We don’t want things to be commercial.
We want to conserve.”