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Damage in the dunes

Rangers should lead nature walks, not direct traffic



I led my last nature hike in the Nipomo Dunes today. This, after 48 years and probably more than 10,000 people and almost weekly hikes. I tried to change our culture, tried to educate, tried to inspire like John Muir in Yosemite. I’ve failed. 

On May 23, I had the honor and pleasure of showing 74 second graders Oso Flaco Lake to the Pacific. Contact with the natural world is so enriching and inspiring for young people. Ask any teacher about the value of nature field trips. On the Pacific, at the mouth of Oso Flaco Creek, a state park ranger gave me a citation for bringing these second graders into the dunes as I have done for 48 years. Rangers should be leading these nature hikes rather than driving around, issuing citations. 

At the present time, cars are no longer just a small part of our culture; they are our culture. Vehicles have taken over our lives. We convert open space, parks, and empty space into roads and wider roads. We permit the mouth of Arroyo Grande Creek, with four endangered species, to be a “road.” Steelhead trout must cross this road to reproduce. One out of six working Americans has work related to cars, and the rest depend on them to get to work. 

Cars supersaturate the Los Angeles Basin and have made its air typically unfit to breathe. Cars cause sprawl. They have permitted the “big boxes” to grow east of Santa Maria, surrounded by large parking lots. Nipomo had no stop lights as recently as 15 years ago—now there are long lines of traffic at Tefft and Highway 101. 

The worst aspect of our vehicle dependence is that our tax dollars are used to promote even more vehicle use on Oceano Beach and in the Nipomo Dunes at the State Vehicle Recreation Area (SVRA). Each year, money from the gas tax in California goes to the SVRA to promote even more vehicle use as a form of “recreation.” In biology this is called a “vicious cycle”—the more gas used, the more the tax, the more the promotion of vehicle “recreation” resulting in even more gasoline use. 

Legislation established the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle (OHV) Division of our fine state park system. Legislation can take it out. Request Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee and Sen. Abel Maldonado (both at State Capitol, Sacramento, CA, 95814) to introduce legislation to terminate the OHV Division of the California State Park System. 

I urge everyone to walk more, get a bike and use it (1,000 miles for me last year), use our excellent bus system, and take Amtrak for long trips—it is a neat, relaxing way to travel. Mainly, use your vehicle less. Each time you get ready to hop in your handy “polluter,” ask yourself: “Is this trip necessary? Could I do four or five errands instead of just one? Could I walk (exercise) to the local small store?” 

Vehicle emissions are a leading cause of global warming. Vehicles account for more than half of our air pollution. We build our cities to accommodate cars, not people and kids. We even have signs on the beach at Oceano saying: “Pedestrians beware of vehicles.” Cars encourage urban sprawl (slurbanization). 

When I turned 70, I decided to see if I could live without a car. I was car-free for almost two years—it was an educational/exciting experience. I urge more people to try this “different lifestyle.” It’s great exercise, too. 

My view (and the wildlife I represent) is that there should be no vehicles on Oceano Beach or Nipomo Dunes. My view is that vehicle use is not a type of “recreation.” My view is that our state parks system should promote appreciation and interpretation of the natural world and not promote even more vehicle use (oil addiction). My view is that the beach is for kids, strollers, volleyball, horses, bird-watching, snowy plovers, wave listening, joggers, least terns, and, of course, lovers. My view is that vehicles make corporations like Unocal, Shell, and Honda very rich and powerful, but are destroying the habitat that nurtured our species. 

If you want our beach free of vehicles, write to the California Coastal Commission (725 Front St., Suite 300, Santa Cruz, CA, 95060). They were established to protect our coast. 

Sustainability, voluntary simplicity, using less, consuming less, and simple living are the hope for a future, but are considered by many to be un-American. During the remaining days of the “Golden Age of Man,” I will enjoy my time to the hilt. The future is not mine. 

I give up on trying to change our culture. State park rangers should be leading nature walks, not directing traffic. I tried to change where we are headed. What are you doing?

Bill Denneen is a Nipomo resident and eco-hooligan. Send comments to the executive editor at Rmiller@santamariasun.com

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