The Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area near the central coast of California has been a popular spot for off-road vehicle use over the years. It's one of the last California state parks that still allowed people to take their off-highway vehicle on the sand dunes, though it appears that's now coming to an end.
What's the Deal With the Off-Roading Ban at Oceano Dunes?
After a 40-year battle with the California Department of Parks and Recreation, a vote has been passed to completely ban OHV use in these areas within the next three years. Of course, for the California Coastal Commission, this is a big win. Certain locals, on the other hand, didn't exactly take too kindly to this new restriction, which will officially take effect in 2024. Small businesses are also at the mercy of taking a hit from the decision.
The scenic stretch of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes complex, which runs about 18 miles along Central Coast near San Luis Obispo County, has a variety of uses. That said, the primary usage has always revolved around vehicle access. OHVs, dune buggies, ATVs, and dirt bikes are a common sight on this land.
Initially, commissioners and conservationists found that driving at the park was inconsistent with the Coastal Act. The decision to phase out vehicles came after an assessment that concluded that it "caused health problems, degraded fragile habitats, and made it difficult for the public to walk, swim, and enjoy other non-vehicular activities at the beach and dunes."
There's around 1,500 acres of park, and it has a limit of 5,300 vehicles allowed for day use. One issue is that the main entrance happens to direct visitors through habitat at the mouth of Arroyo Grande Creek in order to get to the staging/OHV area. During the pandemic, capacity was limited to 2,500, and at one point, the gates to Oceano were locked. During this time, large amounts of the federally-threatened Western Snowy Plover bird settled in there. When it came time for reopening, many public comments and concerns reported that state park rangers deliberately destroyed plover nests and sensitive habitat during this time, which doesn't help the case for the dunes.
On top of off-roading enthusiasts losing their spot, small business around the area will also be impacted. Many of these companies, such as ATV rentals, rely on tourists, but with the OHV ban, the state park becomes much less desirable. Hikers, swimmers, beachgoers, and campers at the Oceano campground will still be allowed on this land, but there's no question that the amount of people visiting will be drastically reduced compared to previous years.
If you happen to be around the area, enjoy driving at Oceano Dunes SVRA while you still can. California will always go above and beyond to protect the environment against anything that destroys it, and this is no exception. With the exit of OHV on the dunes and beach, the non-motorized public seem to be thrilled to regain access to the land with limited noise disturbances. However, small businesses will also need to reconsider their plan if they hope to stay operational in the coming years.