Mesa Verde grant seen as help to draw winter traffic

Money will pay for grooming snowy trails

Mesa Verde National Park will receive nearly $10,000 from the National Park Foundation to fund its new winter exploration program, which will allow visitors to enjoy the sites year-round by creating snowshoe and ski trails to outlying areas, park officials said.

The Active Trails grant of $9,765 gives Mesa Verde the money to invest in a snowroller to help groom trails, signs to mark winter trails, winter trail guides, ecology brochures, binoculars and snowshoes, said Mesa Verde spokeswoman Betty Lieurance.

“Our proposal was to develop several different avenues to help connect folks with the winter resources of the park,” said Carol Sperling , also of Mesa Verde National Park. “Not all of the archaeological sites are open in the wintertime … so winter resources include everything else – backcountry trails, cross country skiing opportunities. We hope to develop some sort of lecture series with our local partners that might be of interest to local people, whether that would occur here in the park or in one of the towns.”

Lieurance said the park’s winter exploration program will be a further development of the opportunities available only during colder months, cut short because of last year’s light snowfall.

“The response to opening these trails to get people back into some of these canyons was tremendous,” Lieurance said. “The snow needs to fall to make it worthwhile. People can cross country ski the road or walk on the road, but a lot of people really want to get back in where they can see something. Even though you can see Cliff Palace, it’s not the same as being off on a trail out in the wilderness.”

The Active Trails money is effective immediately and lasts through the end of the year, according to National Park Foundation grants and programs manager Katherine Chesson.

Chesson said the foundation chose Mesa Verde as one of 13 grant recipients in 2012 because of the uniqueness and sustainability of its proposal.

“A lot of the other Active Trails projects sort of focus on summer and fall events and activities, and this one is aimed at getting visitors out to Mesa Verde in the winter,” Chesson said. “We thought it was cool in that it’s using the park in a way that maybe it’s not traditionally used, and it’s something that can be repeated in the future. … Our money will not just be a one-time use, but the park will hopefully get several years of use out of it.”

Chesson said the Active Trails program, now in its fourth year, tries to make national parks more relevant for their tourists and the local communities alike.

“Active Trails is designed to get folks out into the parks, promote healthy lifestyles and community engagement through recreation and volunteer service, either improving or building trails, creating awareness around the trails in the parks so that they are a resource for (the communities) to use … while also restoring the thousands of trails that exist as part of our national parks,” Chesson said.

Officials hope the grant money also will lead to an economic boost in the area. Mesa Verde generates around $70 million in tourism-related revenue every year and helps support about 1,000 jobs in Montezuma County, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said in a news release.

“Developing more recreational opportunities during winter – what has traditionally been the shoulder season for national parks – will help attract tourists, spur economic development in Montezuma and surrounding counties and inject much-needed revenue into the local economies during slower months,” Udall said.

Rahcel Karas is an intern for The Durango Herald and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.

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