National Wildlife Refuges

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages approximately 112,000 acres of land within the northern portion of heritage area. These lands include the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge along the east bank of the Rio Grande; the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, which lies mostly within Rio Grande County; and the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, which borders the Sand Dunes National Park to the north and west. Most of the Baca NWR is located in Saguache County. The refuges in their totality are a part of the National Heritage Area, regardless of the county in which they are found.

The Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge contains approximately 14,800 acres along the far western edge of the heritage area. Starting in 1952, a series of water works were created there to restore some of the wetlands that were common throughout the valley when it was first settled. Each spring and fall, approximately 20,000 migrating sandhill cranes along with large numbers of migrating waterfowl use the refuge as a major stopping point. This migration is one of the San Luis Valley’s greatest spectacles and is celebrated every spring in early March at the Monte Vista Crane Festival. A self-guided driving trail with some wayside exhibits and wildlife viewing areas offer visitors an opportunity to learn about the refuge’s wetlands and many wild inhabitants.

The Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge contains more than 12,000 acres of wetlands within the floodplain of the Rio Grande. Meadows, river oxbows, and riparian corridors support high species diversity and create ideal conditions for viewing waterfowl, songbirds, and other wildlife. The USFWS maintains two trails that provide views of the wetlands, the Rio Grande Nature Trail and Bluff Nature Trail, which are self-guided with some wayside exhibits.

The Baca Wildlife Refuge is located in the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area in Southern Colorado. Its 85,000 acres were established to help protect water resources in the San Luis Valley, the fragile great sand dunes ecosystem and some of the most important ecological, cultural, and wildlife resources of the Valley. Water is the lifeblood of the San Luis Valley. The runoff from the surrounding mountains and ground water flows are crucial to the many land uses in the Valley. These waters create a network of riparian corridors and wetlands that break up large expanses of desert and upland habitats, resulting in high plant diversity.  The area is also rich in historic and cultural resource sites, some of which date over 12,000 years ago. The Refuge abuts lands owned or controlled by other conservation entities including The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the National Park Service (NPS), and the Colorado State Land Board. This complex of lands, totaling more than 500,000 acres, contains one of the largest and most diverse assemblages of wetland habitats remaining in Colorado. The Baca National Wildlife Refuge is currently closed to public access. Environmental assessments area currently ongoing in response to oil and gas exploration claims by Lexam Explorations, which owns subsurface mineral rights below a portion of the property.