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Offroaders bring prosperity 

A recent commentary (“Let’s return to nature,” Dec. 11) by Nell Langford tears into the dispute over how many dollars Oceano Dunes tourism brings to SLO County. In-depth and very expensive studies have repeatedly shown that Dunes tourism brings as much as $200 million or more annually. The latest study by Dean Runyan and Associates calls Oceano “a key attraction”, one of only two they identify in SLO County (Hearst Castle being the other, with one-third the popularity).

  The study found that South County tourism accounts “for nearly one-third of all travel spending within the county (32% or $359 million)”—far more than any other area of the county. Yet, Langford would have us believe that Oceano Dunes is responsible for “less than $23 million” of that $359 million, or only 6.4% of South County tourism!

  After searching, I discovered Langford’s $23 million figure comes from California Travel Impacts by County, a report also published by Runyan. Langford blunders (perhaps cunningly) by singling out spending by travelers staying only at public campgrounds. But park attendance numbers reveal campers comprise only 22% of visitors, leaving 78% of visitors not accounted for in Langford’s $23 million claim.

  The “non-camping” 78% spend far more than beach campers, because they patronize restaurants and pay for hotels, motels, private campgrounds, and the multitude of vacation rental homes surrounding Oceano and Pismo Beach. One might forgive Langford for simple oversight if her own vacation rentals were not often seen with OHVs parked in the driveway.

  With its tourism supporting more than 2,000 full time jobs, Oceano Dunes is the South County’s single largest “employer” (except for maybe PG&E). Oceano Dunes is the largest single source of SLO County tourism dollars. A supervisor at Vons market on Grand Avenue related, laughing, “God yes! We wouldn’t be one of the biggest stores in the company without it!” Here is a quote from a letter signed by the entire Pismo Beach City Council: “The City of Pismo Beach derives a significant amount of revenue from the visitors drawn to this State Recreation Vehicle Area and much of the City’s future economic planning is dependent on the continuation of this State Recreation Vehicle Area and a change of use on the property would adversely impact the economic well being of our City.” The economic benefit of Dunes generated tourism cannot be argued without blinders or extreme bias.

    For more than a year Langford has been citing an air pollution study that does not yet exist as cause for closing our state park. Langford’s complaint is over “particulate matter” (dust) that blows off the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes complex. On April 17 this year, she and her friends marched into the Board of Supervisors chambers wearing dust masks, handing one out to each supervisor in a dramatic display.

   Blaming vehicles for blowing sand completely disregards the dunes themselves. Coastal dunes occur where strong winds blow onshore, bringing in sediment from eroding mountains and rivers. Movement of sediment via wind is called aeolian transportation. The U.S. Geological Survey in 2006 estimated nearly 500,000,000 pounds of sand are blown inland each year along the stretch of coastline from Pismo Beach to Point Arguello. Despite this, and the overwhelming testimony of 20-plus miles of sand dunes, recreators are blamed.

   Statewide in California in 2007, 183 billion vehicle miles were traveled on state highways (CalTrans Traffic Data Branch)—1.9 billion miles of that in SLO County. We could guess that those numbers would at least double if county and city roads were taken into account. Who doesn’t contribute to those many miles (Bill Denneen excluded)? Assertions that each day “thousands of out-of-towners” are on our roads headed to Oceano Dunes don’t add up. Attendance numbers come close only on the busiest of holiday weekends. Annually, they are a drop in the bucket.

  Anti-Dunes activists run an extremely biased, one-way campaign. Repeated invitations to contribute cogent input in round-table discussions have been flatly turned down.  

  Dunes visitors includes all races and nationalities. Families, friends, and worldwide travelers enjoy the hell out of Oceano Dunes and all that it offers: recreation, socialization, and—gasp—even nature! It was local off-roaders who made Oceano Dunes this year’s most successful Coastal Cleanup Day site in SLO County.

  I hope SLO citizens will continue to realize every pursuit has its place. Oceano Dunes constitutes 0.07% of SLO County’s land area, which for more than 100 years has been a place for families to gather and enjoy weekends. See you at Your Dunes!

Kevin P. Rice helped organize a summer clean- up of the Oceano Dunes that drew more than 100 volunteers.  Send comments to the editor at

-- Kevin P. Rice - San Luis Obispo

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