Colorado - Mesa Verde National Park

State: Colorado, New Mexico

Located near Farmington, New Mexico and reaching into Montezuma County, Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park was created in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt in an effort to protect some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the world. It occupies 81.4 square miles near the Four Corners and features numerous ruins of homes and villages built by the Ancestral Puebloan people, sometimes called the Anasazi.

In addition to the over 4,000 archaeological sites and over 600 cliff dwellings left by the Pueblo people at the site, Mesa Verde features pinyon pine and Utah juniper forests. The arid landscape is home to wildlife including mule deer, wild turkeys, ground squirrels, skunks, coyotes, gray fox, mountain lions, black bears, elk, marmots, and even porcupines, in addition to numerous species of rabbits and owls.

Although most of the land within the park boundaries was not settled in historic times, it has not escaped the adverse influences of human activity. These activities include the introduction of invasive plant species including Musk Thistle; declining air quality due to emissions from two nearby coal-burning power plants and visitor and staff vehicles; deteriorating water quality and quantity in the Mancos River due to upstream agricultural uses; physical wear-and-tear as a result of heavy visitation; and grazing and trampling by trespass horses that stray into the park from the adjoining Mountain Ute Reservation. Mesa Verde also has environmental issues of natural origin including large-scale wildfires that have destroyed over 36,000 acres of old-growth forests and shrublands in the park since 1989.

EcoFlight has flown with conservation leaders over Mesa Verde National Park numerous times. The park was also featured as part of the Flight Across America Student Program of 2011, which looked in part at the impact of Farmington’s heavily polluting power plants on air quality inside Mesa Verde. Following the youth education program offered by EcoFlight, one student was selected to present to EPA with National Parks Conservation Association about her experience in the air, learning about the dangers polluting industries pose to parks like Mesa Verde.

August 16th, 2013:  The BLM announced deferment 10,700 acres of public lands that were up for leasing near Mesa Verde National Park.  The BLM will use additional time to "complete further analysis" and work with stakeholders interested in developing the area for oil and gas.  Many locals are concerned that oil and gas leasing near the park border would seriously impact visitor experience and the treasured historical sites of Mesa Verde.  The National Park service has expressed concern that drilling would create massive light pollution to an otherwise clear night sky which would rob visitors of the experience of star-gazing in the park.