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The 'dunes of death'? 


After reading the opinion piece by Robert Cuddy regarding the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area ("Long overdue," May 23) over my leisurely breakfast out, I was immediately stricken with a terror so profound and visceral that I had no choice but to scurry home and hide under my bed, whimpering, while I awaited an effort by these malevolent mounds of mayhem to come creeping up my street and smother me in my sleep.

Eventually, I realized that few geologic processes move so abruptly as to present an immediate threat to life and limb, and that perhaps Mr. Cuddy was merely engaging in a bit of hyperbole of the sort which is often featured in public discussions these days. Still, as a precaution, my doors remain locked, and a shovel kept nearby.

Yes, people do occasionally get killed and injured on the dunes. The dunes are used by many hundreds of thousands of Californians every year, and as with any group that size, there are bound to be some people who do dumb things and get hurt. This phenomenon is not limited to the dunes, but occurs on the highways and at all public venues.

Luckily, there are several easy steps one can take to stay safe. For one, you can avoid the area altogether. The off-road area occupies only a small portion of the immense beach stretching from Shell Beach nearly to Point Sal, and it features beautiful vehicle-free areas like the nearby Guadalupe Dunes. Or, you can go out on weekdays when the crowds and "drunken imbecile-index" are low. Or, you can stay along the water, where the rangers strictly control speed and traffic safety. I have traveled to the dunes a number of times over the years in my old Jeep, and amazingly, I remain alive and unscathed.

Shootings of the sort cited by Mr. Cuddy occur daily around the state, and have nothing to do with off-road vehicles, and a "concert" can occur at any locale where young people congregate around a sound system. Violent gangs are a sad reality of life in California these days, and a review of the news reveals that SLO County is not immune.

He is correct that there is a "class element at play" here between the "valley people" and the locals. But he should remember that they are also Californians, pay the state taxes that support the parks, and they sustain our local economy with their spending. Whether Mr. Cuddy approves or not, our area is "the beach" for those who live in Fresno and Bakersfield, and they have every right to escape their summer heat and visit, just as we have the right to travel through their towns to go skiing or visit the mountains. And, any visitors seeking a vehicle-free visit already have the vast majority of our beaches at their disposal.

The risks of riding on the dunes, while small relative to the number of people who use the dunes, are pretty obvious and are accepted by the participants. It really just comes down to a philosophical issue of whether or not people should be allowed to engage in behavior that puts them at risk.

As you may have noticed from myriad "extreme" sports out there, many people are drawn to take risks, especially young men. Why shouldn't they be allowed to do so? Many cultures feature dangerous undertakings as part of the "coming of age" rites for young men, and while I am many decades past that particular stage in my life, I would certainly have preferred to take my chances on the dunes over, say, taking on a lion with a spear.

I, for one, feel neither inclined nor entitled to tell others how to lead their lives, so long as their behavior does not hurt others. I do not need to tell others how they should live, and I hope that they will return the favor. This is the view shared by California State Parks and, I believe, the majority of the community. I would not want to live in a society in which the cholesterol-ridden eggs in my hastily abandoned breakfast placed me at risk of government sanctions imposed "for my own good." Δ

John Donegan lives in Pismo Beach, where he is retired and amuses himself by ranting about the issues of the day to anyone who will listen. Send your comments through the editor at [email protected] or write a response via [email protected], and New Times just might publish it.

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