SAND DUNES — 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 seven 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.
Courier file photo by Ruth Heide