Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado adds 9,000 acres

Nathaniel Minor/CPR News
Great Sand Dunes National Park sits below the west side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the San Luis Valley.

The Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado is growing by more than 9,000 acres. The land is a portion of the Medano-Zapata Ranch Preserve in the San Luis Valley, which has been held by The Nature Conservancy since 1999.

According to the Department of the Interior, which runs the National Park Service, around 12,498 acres of the Medano Ranch fall within park boundaries. So while the plan is a transfer of land between the two agencies, it's not necessarily an expansion. The Nature Conservancy expects the remaining 3,192 acres within park boundaries to transfer to the National Park Service in the future. 

About 20,000 adjacent acres of the Zapata property will remain under Nature Conservancy management.

When the sand dunes became a national park in 2000, its territory quadrupled in size. The dunes were designated a national monument in 1932.

"The lands being transferred … contain important springs and wetlands that support a rich diversity of life," said park superintendent Pamela Rice in a news release. Local wildlife include elk and migratory birds.

The transfer was funded by the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Department of the Interior said the transfer will allow the park service to manage the land as one connected region.

The Great Sand Dunes National Park is a designated International Dark Sky Park and is included in a proposal for a Sangre de Cristo International Dark Sky Reserve.

The land transfer announcement came the same day that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland was in Colorado to announce the expansion of the Sand Creek Massacre historic site. Haaland also visited Browns Canyon National Monument in Chaffee County during the trip.