Luncheon – September 16, 2005

Talk Title: Great Sand Dunes – Fact and Fiction
Speaker: Andrew Valdez, Great Sand Dunes National Park and National Preserve
Talk Date: September 16, 2005
Publication: The Outcrop, September 2005, p. 4

The National Park Service has managed Great Sand Dunes since 1932. For the first 60 years, its staffing focused on visitor services and only in the last 10 years has it expanded to include scientific and resource expertise. One of the biggest obstacles to overcome during that transition was to correct any false information that the Park Service had traditionally used when interpreting the dunes to the public. The erroneous information included details such as the source of the sand, the age of the dunes, dune types, and the factors that stabilize the dunes.

There are several reasons why the information was erroneous. Some of the geologic studies were done prior to the establishment of fundamentals of aeolian science. Some information was based on the assumption that Great Sand Dunes was similar to other nearby dune systems. Other information attempted to connect dune resource damage to groundwater withdrawal.

Establishing a scientifically valid understanding of Great Sand Dunes required that the geologic processes affecting the development of the dune system be identified, then monitored in order to understand their magnitude, variations, and affect on the dune system. With the understanding gained from this, the National Park Service has been able to successfully defend park resources that lead to a boundary expansion to protect most of the dune system and re-designate the area as a national park.