The Oceano Dunes, better known as Pismo, on the Central California Coast, has been open for off-road vehicular traffic for more than a century. The park became a state vehicular recreation area in 1971 and currently enjoys over 2,000,000 visitors per year, making it California’s most visited park. Each weekend, thousands of families enjoy the only beach in California that allows camping and motorized recreation. The annual contribution to the local economies has been estimated at $200 million. Sounds like a win-win situation for all those involved, doesn’t it?; not according to a few environmental groups and homeowners who have been ferociously battling to close the park for some time.
In 1984, environmentalists successfully lobbied to close 75% of the park’s 18,000 acres to protect endangered species. Later, they were successful in further closing the park to just 1,500 acres, leaving only 8% of the original park open to motorized recreation. In addition, 300 acres (1.5 miles of the 3 mile coastline) is closed for six months during the prime summer camping season, further cramming campers dangerously close to one another.
In 2001, a grass roots campaign known as the Friends of Oceano Dunes (FoOD) was organized by Jim Suty and family, who had been avid off-roaders and campers at the beach for over forty years. They decided they had enough of these senseless closures that were based on voodoo science--effectively drawing a line in the sand and saying enough was enough.
Since then FoOD has become a 501(C-3) non-profit organization completely run by volunteers and has been successful in halting further closures, but to date has been unable to reopen any closed areas. They partner with the California Department of Parks to fight frivolous lawsuits waged on a regular basis by the likes of the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity who claim that the motorized recreation that continues on the remaining 8% of the beach is to blame for the threatened status of the western snowy plover, a small coastal bird, when in fact, scientific evidence has proven that the plover’s natural predators are really to blame.
Today, the Friends of Oceano Dunes is under siege like never before and needs your help. Recently, I had a chance to ask Jim what was going on with the fight and how the average duner could help. His reply was succinct and to the point:
“The Oceano Dunes are under constant attack. The enviros use the Endangered Species Act as a weapon to wage war on our form of recreation. We are currently involved in one lawsuit against the County of San Luis Obispo; we are working to intervene in a lawsuit between the Sierra Club and State Parks; and we are actively working to delist several species. In addition to the legal fight, we are actively working in the political arena to combat bad legislation while promoting the sport and the great Oceano Dunes. A huge thank-you goes out to the many volunteers who keep this organization working strong. Unfortunately, this war is very costly and we need help. FoOD operates on a shoe string budget compared to our adversaries. We need your financial help. Please go to www.oceanodunes.org and become a member or make a donation.”
Now is the time to act. If you love the dunes, get involved before it is too late. Through solidarity and sheer numbers we will prevail. Future generations will thank us for it.