Throughout the acquisition of Pirate’s Cove, the county has maintained a commitment to retaining the traditional public usage of the area, peppering legal documents with phrases such as “conserve for the public benefit the great natural scenic beauty and existing openness, natural condition and present state of use of said property … .”
Now, some have proposed hanging a CLOSED sign on Pirates Cove for 3,650 hours—or 152 cumulative days—of the year.
This is a radical departure from the policy of maintaining traditional usage.
Under the proposed dusk-to-dawn daily closure, moonlit strolls on one of California’s most beautiful beaches would become illegal. Witnessing stars shining across the still water would be criminalized. Sitting on the sun-warmed sands and watching meteors fall into the sea, or the wonder of a lunar eclipse over the ocean, would be forever ended.
Nature doesn’t stop being beautiful at 9 p.m.. For many, the hours when the moon illuminates the cresting waves are the most beautiful hours at seaside. For some, this is a matter of spirituality, and, for us, this is a deeply sacred place.
Personal solitude and peace would be the primary victims of this policy, because there is rarely anyone on the beach after dusk. It is a precious place where one can get away and just be alone.
The reason given for this closure, it is said, is to give the police power to prevent littering of the area, drug and alcohol use, and other similar activity.
But police already have the power to address those issues: Raging parties and bonfires are readily apparent to anyone, including police. Any concerned citizen with a cell phone can report any of this at will.
Should the cove remain free and open, as the county has previously committed, might the morning visitor encounter trash in the parking lot? Sure.
But let us weigh, on the scales of individual and equal liberty, the consequences of the two opposing policies:
The day visitor has a brief unpleasant experience: seeing trash.
The nighttime visitor, however, is banned from experiencing nature altogether.
This is a fundamental violation of the individual freedom of man and woman, each of whom has a natural, inherent right to enjoy the beauty of nature, of which they themselves are a part. This is exactly the type of ham-handed encroachment that many feared when the county acquired the cove.
In any case, have we ever simply asked people to clean up after themselves?
In one wild area I used to visit, I accomplished the same thing the county is seeking to accomplish simply by writing a message with a Sharpie on a flat piece of wood: “If you are too weak or disabled to pack out your own trash, please ask an able-bodied person to help you.” Then I cleaned the place spotless.
I came back a month later, and the place was still spotless. It is amazing what can be accomplished just by challenging someone’s masculinity, or by requesting, rather than forcing, responsibility and leadership.The county’s present threat may even be helpful, because we can say “they are going to restrict access to this place if you don’t change your behavior.” That’s a big stick to wield. It need not be swung to make the point.
Pirate’s Cove is about to be forever altered. This is not in dispute. Once we begin building and paving and putting up signs and restrictions everywhere, it will never be the same. And the freedom and wildness of this place is why people come to it, including tourists. Many come here from far away, even from places with their own beautiful beaches and rocky shores, just to get to this place, because this place is unique. It is free. It is wild.
We owe it to every generation that comes after us, every soul who seeks the solitude and ruggedness of the wild, to think this very carefully through—and to ask the county to live up to their commitment to the “scenic beauty and existing openness, natural condition and present state of use” of Pirate’s Cove.
Sean Shealy is an author, activist, and administrator of the Friends of Pirate’s Cove Facebook page. Send comments to the executive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Sean Shealy - Arroyo Grande