National Heritage Areas are places where history, cultural and natural wonders intersect with everyday places where people live, work, and play. An NHA is a region that may cross state and county boundaries that has been recognized and designated by Congress for its unique contribution to the nation’s history. NHA’s are guided by the National Park Service but they are run by local organizations and partnerships interested in promoting and preserving unique resources. In short, the NHA’s tell America’s story. Our land, culture and history are a living, breathing part of American History that should be treasured, preserved and shared. Our history here in the San Luis Valley is just as important and significant as the landing at Plymouth or the battlefields of the Civil War. The United States currently has 49 designated and active National Heritage Areas throughout the country. The State of Colorado has three National heritage areas: the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area, South Park National Heritage Area and Cache la Poudre National Heritage Area.  National Heritage Areas work in close partnership with the National Park Services, but are not part of the National Park Services.

The history of the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area is significant to the National story. The SdCNHA and is one of only two National Heritage Areas that celebrate Hispano heritage; the other being Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area in northern New Mexico. We also have an important history of settlements by Native Americans, explorers, Germans, Japanese, Caucasians, Mormans,  and most recently  Amish.  The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area was designated by congress in 2009. It is located in south-central Colorado, which includes more than 3,000 square miles of the San Luis Valley including: Alamosa, Costilla and Conejos Counties; the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve; the Baca Wildlife Refuge and Preserve; and the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge.

With 11,000 years of documented human habitation, the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area is a crossroads of the centuries. Here a unique blend of Native American, Hispano and Anglo settlement is reflected in the diversity of the people, art and traditions. The geographic isolation of our high desert valley and the peoples’ enduring ties to the land have given rise to a rich cultural heritage and ensured its preservation. The area’s fertile cultural landscape is complemented by remarkable natural resources, including the mighty Rio Grande, majestic Rocky Mountain peaks, Great Sand Dunes National Park, National Wildlife Refuges, and the high mountain desert, all of which lend the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area’s unparalleled beauty that offers a sense of retreat and a powerful source of inspiration for visitors.

“During 2017, the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area (SdCNHA) expanded its programming in pursuit of continued educational opportunities with local youth and visitors. First among these projects was the expansion of support for the oral history project that seeks to preserve the voices and unique perspectives of local storytellers and guardians of the region’s rich heritage. In the course of developing this project, the SdCNHA has begun working closely with educators in the local K-12 districts. In addition to partnering with teachers and local non-profit organizations to preserve the rich culture and history of the region, the SdCNHA launched a new partnership with fellow Colorado NHAs. Through a collaboration with the Cache la Poudre National Heritage Area and South Park National Heritage Area, the SdCNHA supported the development of the Colorado Heritage Journey ( website and marketing campaign. This effort will spread knowledge of the San Luis Valley to communities throughout the state, inviting them to learn more about the place where Colorado began.” Nick Saenz SdCNHA Board President

The heritage area is dedicated to preserving the history of the San Luis Valley through several avenues.  The Heritage Area is special not only for its places but also for its people. We are fortunate that so many have shared their personal accounts of living in the heritage area. They have been interviewed by video producers, historians and friends. Their first-hand accounts add a richness to our understanding of the area and provide a unique historical record. You can view our oral histories on our YouTube channel (Sangre NHA).

Closely tied to the mission of the heritage area is the protection of the land, water and historic buildings. We work closely with the State Historic Preservation office to place historic buildings on the National Register of Historic Places as well as providing supplemental grants for the restoration of historical buildings. The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area has an annual cycle for our Heritage Grants. These grants are available to local organizations working to promote the mission of the National Heritage Area by restoring historic buildings, providing interpretation, restoring/promoting scenic and recreational resources or documenting culturally significant components of the way of life in the San Luis Valley. These efforts will support Heritage Preservation and Tourism and promote the counties of Alamosa, Conejos and Costilla.

Grants from the SdCNHA are intended to encourage local cultural and historic heritage preservation activities and educational programs. These may include projects dedicated to interpretation and way-finding, conservation, or recreation with a heritage or cultural emphasis. SdCNHA grants are awarded to help stimulate local discussion and participation and, at best, are the catalyst for community and partner collaborations. A small grant at the right time can go a long way toward inspiring a community or an organization to take action on a cultural or heritage project. Our grant cycle will open March 1st, 2018 and the deadline for submissions in June 1st, 2018.

Education is also a passion for SdCNHA. We have developed information and activities designed to assist teachers and educators in the preservation of our rich heritage. All activities have been designed to be adapted for classroom use. The activities can be altered, as needed, for age, ability level, curriculum area, or for any other reason necessary to make them useful within the classroom. The activities are in pdf format. Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to view these documents. You have permission to print out the information and activities you want to use, and you may adapt anything to meet your needs. Beginning this year, 2018, the SdCNHA started offering Field Trip Grants as well. These grants encourage field trips which foster the study of land and water, local history, local heritage, local culture, archaeology, an understanding of place, and the natural and human resources that we use and conserve. Applications for field trip grants and lesson plans can be found at