Roland Lanini in the dunes.
Many threats exist that could partially or completely close Oceano Dunes. The tiny snowy plover shorebird is the most well-known. The Sierra Club already succeeded in closing nearly one mile of beach during the March-through-September plover nesting season.
Potential loss of the 584 acres of La Grande Tract dunes is a major future concern. Sierra Club members serving on the Grand Jury last year were able to bias a Grand Jury report on La Grande. The club now points to that report to influence politicians and an ongoing lawsuit.
Activists are also attempting to sway county decision makers and local opinion. One tiny faction produces a cable TV show that is solely anti-dunes and plays twice weekly. The show purports to uncover truth, but is highly distorted and lacking of facts.
The first-ever sandrail, built by Jerry Miller (1956)
Natural Air Pollution?
The latest and most ominous closure threat is one of a new sort. We're used to claims that we affect nature; this time, we are being blamed for nature!
Air blowing inland through sand dunes contains more dust and sand than air found elsewhere. Called particulate matter, or PM, this dust is the result of 500-million pounds of sand that is naturally deposited each year by the ocean and blown onshore. This is how coastal dunes come to exist.
If Oceano Dunes were anywhere else this natural dust wouldn't be an issue, but in California, air regulations specify PM levels can only be one-third of what is acceptable anywhere else in the country. This got the attention of air regulators who consider dune dust air pollution.
How could naturally occurring dust close Oceano Dunes? Air regulators have concocted a distorted theory that vehicles break-up an alleged "crust" on the dune surface, thus exposing loose dust to the wind. Never mind that geologists say there is no crust, the air specialists claim otherwise and have convinced more than one county supervisor to listen.
The air regulators also say vehicles have stripped the dunes of former vegetation which holds down the dune dust. They point to a single 1979 photo as proof. I, however, have obtained dozens of aerial photos back to 1930 which all show barren sand dunes.
Political support is very much needed to prevent false science from closing our park.
Keeping it Open
Just moments can go a long way toward keeping Oceano Dunes open. In less time than you've spent reading this so far you could have written a three-sentence email to the newspapers and politicians in San Luis Obispo County to express support. The email addresses you'll need can be found at www.yourdunes.org. You can also help by donating to Friends of Oceano Dunes (oceanodunes.org), which is a non-profit that has fought many legal battles and has prevented closures already. Think how much your equipment has cost or how much your sand sport business depends on open dune areas.
When you visit Oceano Dunes, the best support you can give is to be conscientious. Keep the revelry and fun within bounds. Pick up your trash (and anyone else's you see on the ground). Don't drive fast near others or make late-night noise (including loud generators). Be responsible! There are anti-OHV people out there with video cameras just watching.
Finally, know the rules! No glass bottles. Only split wood for fires is allowed (no lumber). No fireworks. All vehicles must have flags in the dunes. Don't do donuts. There's a 15-mph limit on the beach and around camps. No dogs off leash. And, an odd one: no kites (it can possibly scare the endangered birds).
The author, Kevin P. Rice, is a dirt-bike rider and local resident of San Luis Obispo who is involved daily with Oceano Dunes issues and advocacy. Kevin organizes an annual beach cleanup event at YourDunes.org to raise legal defense funds for Friends of Oceano Dunes. Please join and support them at OceanoDunes.org!