The Crestone Eagle, January 2005:

Restriction or new opportunity?
National Park Access on County/Baca roads cause stir

by Lisa Cyriacks

Approximately 65 people attended a recent public meeting to discuss Access issues for the National Park. The topic of concern: people seeking access, on foot or in vehicle, to the National Park utilizing county roads through the Baca Grande subdivision.

With the formal creation of the Great Sand Dunes National Park, public access to park lands south of the subdivision became a reality. Vehicle access will continue to be prohibited until completion of the Management Plan, but the public will be able to cross the Park boundary on foot or horseback. Steve Chaney, National Park Service, identified only three ways for the public to gain legal access to the new addition of park land: 1) across Forest Service lands above the subdivision, 2) from the Visitor Center located at the south end of the Park (both of which cover difficult terrain), or 3) through the Baca Grande subdivision, utilizing subdivision roads and climbing over the boundary fence.

At the very least for the next six years, until the Baca Wildlife Refuge completes its management plan and restrictions on the Lexxam Road are lifted, the subdivision is faced with the impact of people utilizing subdivision roads to cross the Park boundary where they can. Chaney re-iterated his earlier offer of creating a parking area on park-owned land near Alpine Park in an effort to reduce parking problems within the subdivision. It is clear that regardless of access decisions made by federal agencies, the subdivision and/or Saguache County will have responsibility for enforcement related to access issues within the subdivision boundary.

Locally, the stakeholders have been identified: residents of the Baca Grande, the spiritual centers on two sides of the subdivision, residents of the Town of Crestone, needs for access from other county residents, needs for access by the Forest Service and the National Park, US Fish and Wildlife’s charge to conserve, protect, and enhance biodiversity.

A comment from the audience identified how the lack of a formal community decision-making process hampers our ability to respond. The POA could seek consensus among its members, but is that sufficient to legally ensure the protection residents seek? If a referendum of the voters is sought, how is the pool of voters identified? School district boundary? Water district boundary?

Other issues at hand that should be included in a formal discussion are:

1) The year 2008 would mark the beginning of planning for the Wildlife Refuge with 2010 being the earliest completion date, although the gathering of baseline data for the plan could begin in 2006. In the meantime, there will be no public access on the Refuge until a management plan is in place, leaving the subdivision roads as the only vehicular access to the park boundary. The risk is potential conversion of a short-term solution (using subdivision roads) into a long-term solution.

2) Abandonment of last few feet of roads that meet directly the boundary by the County, surrendering them to greenbelt and control of the Property Owners Association.

3) Vacating the subdivision roads from public access, i.e. privatization.

4) Opportunity to design the type of experience visitors will have—perhaps by channeling all vehicles to the South Crestone trailhead and designing a foot trail through or adjacent to the subdivision to provide access to Cottonwood Creek and points further south.

5) Traffic impact, including exhaust.

6) Economic advantages—tourism private enterprise providing parking, shuttle service.

7) Community engagement: Who is involved? What is their authority?

Another meeting is being planned for Saturday, January 15 at 2pm at the POA Hall. The community is encouraged to participate.

Map showing possible Alpine Camp access node, Lexxam Road, and Liberty Road access routes into National Park.