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Oil and Gas Drilling Pays for 9,350-Acre Expansion of Great Sand Dunes Nat’l Park, Adding Colorado Ranch Wetlands

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Great Sand Dunes NP – Matt Noble.

Colorado is blessed with one of the finest-dealt hands of public land in North America, and it’s still growing.

A nearby ranch was bought by a non-profit and turned over to the National Park Service to expand Great Sand Dunes National Park by 9,350 acres, (3,783 hectares).

Encompassing biodiverse wetlands, the transfer of the Medano-Zapata Ranch helps bring the park closer towards its original, envisioned footprint.

“The lands being transferred to the Park contain important springs and wetlands that support a rich diversity of life,” said Great Sand Dunes National Park Superintendent Pamela Rice. “This acquisition marks an important step toward completing the plan for Great Sand Dunes National Park that was established in 2004.”

The Nature Conservancy is one of the world’s largest environmental non-profits, and they had acquired the land through an agreement with the ranch back in 1999. This year they were then compensated for their member-supported purchase with money from the federal government’s Land and Water Conservation Fund, which takes royalties from oil and gas drilling to pay for conservation projects.

Since its inception more than 50 years ago, the LWC has funded $4 billion worth of conservation projects nationwide, and in 2019 it was reauthorized by Congress permanently.

RELATED: This Road Trip Map Helps You Visit the 47 Iconic National Parks in the Shortest Time

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, which includes a herd of grazing bison, currently on a 7-year lease from the Dept. of Interior.

Great Sand Dunes National Park was established as a national monument in 1932 and redesignated as a national park and preserve in 2000 to protect the tallest dunes in North America for current and future generations.

MORE PARKS NEWS: One Year Since Bipartisan Bill Funds Repairs at National Parks: See What Projects are Underway in 40 States

The dunes are the centerpiece in a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, forests, alpine lakes and tundra. Last year, more than 603,000 visitors came to experience the singular dunes and starry skies, and learn about the cultural history.

In 2021, park visitors spent an estimated $41.3 million in local gateway regions while visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, supporting more than 530 jobs.

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