A new federal bill supports funding for Colorado’s three National Heritage Areas, including Sangre de Cristo

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Blanca Peak, 14,351 feet, seen from the San Luis Valley on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021.

A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress would keep federal funds flowing to Colorado’s National Heritage areas through 2036. Sangre de Cristo, South Park and Cache La Poudre River National Heritage Areas were designated in 2009 as places where history, culture and nature create a nationally important landscape.

The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area spans more than 3,000 square miles in the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado. It includes 14,000-thousand foot peaks, Great Sand Dunes National Park and multiple wildlife areas, preserves and refuges. It’s a land where Hispano, American Indian and Anglo cultures meet and includes the state’s oldest town, ethnic and spiritual communities and many historic sites, such as a narrow gauge railroad and Los Caminos Antiguos that follows the paths Indigenous people have traveled since the last Ice Age.

Nearly 1,800 square miles in size, central Colorado’s South Park National Heritage Area is a huge grassland bounded on three sides by 14,000-thousand foot peaks. Home to ancient bristlecone pines, lynx and many endangered and rare species, its history is connected to agriculture and mining.

The Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area (CALA) follows the river’s 100-year flood plain for some 45 miles starting from Larimer County to Weld County. The river is integral to the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in northern Colorado. Historic sites in the CALA include 1800s era irrigation ditches, the Fort Collins Water Works and the Great Western Sugar Beet Flume.

Colorado’s three national heritage areas are among 55 nationally in 34 states, with a mission to provide conservation, recreation, education, and preservation activities.

Although the heritage areas are administered by non-profit organizations, local or state entities, the federal funds under this bill would continue to come via the National Park Service. 

Democrat Joe Neguse and Republican Doug Lamborn introduced the bill on Thursday.

According to a recent press release, previous NPS funds were used at the South Park NHA to help restore the endangered Paris Mill near Alma; at Sangre de Cristo NHA to share the story of the nation’s first desegregation case, Mestas v. Shone; and the Cache la Poudre NHA to help develop a water education curriculum accessible across the West.