Update: Search for Missing Hiker at Great Sand Dunes Continues in Limited Mode

May 24, 2017

General Press inquiries: Katherine Faz, Public Information Officer, 719-582-0258 or

After more than a week of intense effort, the National Park Service is reducing the scale of the search and rescue effort initiated on Sunday, May 14, for a presumed missing hiker at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. No sign of the presumed missing hiker has been discovered during the search. Even though the search has been scaled back, there is still an ongoing investigation. The park will not be releasing the identity of the visitor while the investigation is ongoing. The investigation focuses on an adult male.

An active investigation began on Sunday, May 14 after park staff noticed a vehicle had been parked for several days in the Sand Pit picnic area parking lot. This parking lot is heavily used by visitors seeking access to the picnic area, to hike, and also used as overnight parking to access backcountry areas in the park and preserve. Upon further investigation, it was revealed that the visitor entered Great Sand Dunes on Monday, May 8 and had not left an itinerary or travel plan with family nor received a backcountry permit and overnight parking pass at the park visitor center to help establish their travel route and planned return date. The park received assistance from ground support and dog teams, and helicopters and a multi mission aircraft have searched the rugged terrain within the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve in areas inaccessible to the ground searchers.

Late last week, snow and high winds had impacted the safety of the search teams and the ability of search dogs and overflights to safely operate in the area where the teams were concentrating their search efforts which put the search on hold. Additional information received on Friday, May 19, provided further evidence for park staff to believe the visitor was hiking into Cold Creek and/or Sand Creek drainage area in the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. When conditions improved on Saturday, May 20, a helicopter searched within the Cold Creek and Sand Creek drainages, an additional 13 square miles within the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. No additional information was discovered from Saturday’s search efforts. As a result, the search will continue in a limited and continuous mode focused on search efforts during regular backcountry patrols. The National Park Service will continue to follow up and investigate new information that it receives.

Overall, Great Sand Dunes has searched for the individual for 7 days with the assistance of ground support and dog teams, helicopters and a multi mission aircraft have searched the rugged terrain within the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve in areas inaccessible to the ground searchers. Park staff have been supported by multiple other resources and agencies including dog teams from Larimer, Park, and El Paso counties, US Forest Service Monument Helitack, Flight for Life, and Division of Fire Prevention and Control’s Multi Mission Aircraft.

Updates to the situation will be made as new information develops. Media inquiries should be directed to Public Information Officer, Kathy Faz at 719-582-0258.


Tourism to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve creates $28 million in Economic Benefits

Report shows visitor spending supports 348 jobs in local economy

Mosca, CO – A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that 388,807 visitors to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in 2016 spent $23,701,000 in communities near the park. That spending supported 348 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $28 million.

“We are delighted to share the story of this place and the experiences it provides”, said Acting Superintendent Scott Stonum. “NPS employees care for the parks and interpret the stories of these iconic natural, cultural and historic landscapes, but it takes our nearby communities to fully provide our visitors with food, lodging and other services that complete a national park experience.” In 2016, Great Sand Dunes saw a 30% increase in visitation due to increase media attention for the National Park Service Centennial celebrations, Medano creek flow, lower gas prices, and the increase in population within the state. The park supported a variety of programs and special events for the Centennial throughout the summer and fall months to accommodate the increase in visitors, which in turn contributed to more visitors enjoying the local community.

The report shows $18.4 billion of direct spending by 331 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 318,000 jobs nationally; 271,544 of those jobs are found in these gateway communities. The cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy was $ 34.9 billion.

According to the 2016 report, most park visitor spending was for lodging (31.2 percent) followed by food and beverages (27.2 percent), gas and oil (11.7 percent), admissions and fees (10.2 percent), souvenirs and other expenses (9.7 percent), local transportation (7.4 percent), and camping fees (2.5%).

The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis and interactive tool was created by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service. Users can explore current year visitor spending, jobs, labor income, value added, and output effects by sector for national, state, and local economies, and also view year-by-year trend data. The interactive tool and report are available at the NPS Social Science Program webpage:

To learn more about national parks in Colorado and how the National Park Service works with communities to help preserve local history, conserve the environment, and provide outdoor recreation, go to For more information about the economic benefits of Great Sand Dunes, contact Kathy Faz at or 719-378-6341.

Kathy and Willa celebrate Every Kid in a Park
Great Sand Dunes Park Ranger, Kathy Faz, presents San Luis Valley 4th grader, Willa Seesz-Sanchez with her Every Kid in a Park free access pass.

Great Sand Dunes Welcomes 4th Grade Students through "Every Kid in a Park"

National Program Encourages Families and Classes to Visit National Parks

Great Sand Dunes invites all 4th grade students to visit the park for free as part of the "Every Kid in a Park" program. Fourth grade students can visit to complete an activity and obtain a voucher. Bring your voucher to a National Park Service site and exchange it for a free annual entry pass to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including national park units, wildlife refuge areas, and US national forests! View full press release (pdf) >

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Last updated: May 26, 2017

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11999 State Highway 150

Mosca, CO 81146


(719) 378-6395

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