Is it time we all shift our thinking on Oceano Dunes?

For years, the public discussion regarding the Oceano Dunes and vehicle access has been binary: four wheelers vs. environmentalists. But maybe its not that simple. 

Not every person who accesses and recreates on the beach and dunes does so in the same manner. There are pedestrians, cyclists, surfers, kite fliers, clammers, and nature lovers getting on the beach with various vehicles. And yes, there are off-road enthusiasts. Unfortunately, some local news sources have not done a good enough job of encouraging informed dialogue when they choose to run only pictures of Oceano on the busiest days, at the entrance to the dunes, and only highlight the off-road enthusiasts, rather than reporting on diverse uses that are enjoyed by many. More people are able to enjoy the beach with vehicle access. Could you imagine no vehicle access into Yosemite or Yellowstone? There is also a line of thinking that suggests making the Oceano Dunes accessible for locals only. This is akin to the notion of giving access to national or state parks only to those who live near it, or Pismo Pier only to those who live in Pismo Beach. Access is for all of us, not just a select few.

The vehicle access issue is now against the backdrop of the recent economic study commissioned by Visit SLO CAL. The study, which is supported by San Luis Obispo County and local municipalities, determined that the Oceano Dunes contributes half a billion dollars each year to our local economy. The countywide economic contribution includes hotel stays, grocery store purchases, and dining at restaurants throughout the county. 

It’s time for our community to come together and work on how to do this better. How do we make vehicle access on the dunes and beach safer and enhance and respect diversity of uses? We can work on designated recreational zones and access points and more robust enforcement, as an example. The benefits of diverse recreational uses and vehicle accessibility, coupled with the gigantic economic benefit and legal victories of Friends of Oceano Dunes, should compel us to work on how to make access safer and better for all. 

Adam Verdin
Oceano business owner