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Petitioners vie over Oceano Dunes pandemic closure

Angel M Russell
Oceano Dunes SVRA has been closed to vehicles since March 26.

It’s been six months since Oceano Dunes State Park has allowed vehicular recreation on its beach and dune complex. While many are calling to keep it closed now for the pandemic—and for a variety of reasons, into the future—others are advocating for its immediate reopening.

Mornings at Oceano Dunes have been pretty quiet since March when vehicles were banned due to COVID-19. Now it’s mostly people just walking or jogging along the empty sand dunes.

“I come here most of the time to do exercise in the morning,” said Oceano resident Isura Bravo. "It's so peaceful now." 

Bravo spends her mornings walking along the beach with her husband, something she said they couldn’t do much when vehicles were allowed on the sand.

“Before that we had to be very careful," Bravo said. "Just with so many people and so many cars.”

Bravo is one of the nearly two thousand people who have signed a petition urging California State Parks to keep the dunes closed to vehicles—the petition says the re-opening is too dangerous during the pandemic.

“We have to think about safety first," Bravo said. "For the situation it would be better closed.”

But when the executive director of Off Roaders United, Lea Rigo-Hensley, saw the petition, she launched her own, calling on State Parks to reopen for vehicles as soon as possible. 

“In six hours we had more signatures than them," Rigo-Hensley said. "And by the end of the day we had double, and the next day quadruple and it just keeps growing.”

Currently at more than 8,000 signatures, Rigo-Hensley advocates that off-roading and camping along the dunes can be done safely during the ongoing pandemic. 

“I still think at the peak of the whole thing, it didn’t make any sense," Rigo-Hensley said. "Because it's literally one of the best activities you can do with your family that gets you away from people.”

Rigo-Hensley said riders are frustrated between closures to help endangered snowy plover nesting and the ongoing legal battles with the Coastal Commission over vehicular use at the dunes. 

We all know [those advocating to continue the closure] just want to close [the dunes to off-roading] anyway, and they are just trying to play on COVID-19," Rigo-Hensley said.

Rigo-Hensley said OHV advocates plan to ride through Oceano in support of reopening the dunes to vehicles during a “Freedom Flag Rally” on October 10.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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