The Crestone Eagle, August 2005:
Dunes National Park Council selects ‘wilderness’ as preferred alternative for study
by Lisa Cyriacks
The 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 aspect.”
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 impacts.
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 the earth.”
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” he added.
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.”