Friday, August 19, 2011

Dispersed use of dune trails

Dispersed use of dune trails a viable option - Uri Driscoll/My Word

Local government agencies and land managers are currently involved in developing recommendations for managing our coastal dunes and beaches. The publication of their white paper, due out this summer, is to reflect these recommendations. Representatives of these agencies have put out to the public the desire for dialog, but so far it has been difficult for some of us to get meaningful (if any) responses from them. There is growing concern over the massive expense, negative effects, and even effectiveness of the European beach grass removal. However, also at stake is the traditional enjoyment of these special environments, because beach grass removal seems to precede trail removal.


What we had been enjoying up until the last several years is what could be called a dispersed use of the dunes and beaches. More recently, there has been a concerted effort to concentrate use and eliminate many favorite trails by State Parks, BLM, and now Friends of the Dunes on property purchased largely with California Coastal Conservancy monies. (The county essentially utilizes the dispersed use management strategy.) Eliminating trails is blatantly out of touch with the obvious community desire for more trails.

First, most of these trails slated for closure are natural pathways following contours that make sense from a pedestrian or horseman's point of view. Second, there has been no real account of what actual problems were associated with the dispersed use. If there were problems, we were not given a chance to rectify them. Third, there are obviously enforcement problems. Deputies and rangers cannot be staffed to the point that they can go after and ticket someone walking or riding on a non-designated dune trail.

If we ever develop the problems that honestly require the type of restrictions we are starting to encounter, we can work that out. However, we, as recreational users and fishermen, have been left out of the working groups determining policies that directly affect us. Let us be real here; even on a sunny summer Sunday, we all have plenty of room, and our impacts are relatively minimal.

These pathways are already in existence. They are premium year-round trails that have not required the maintenance and expense of so many other locations. In other words, they are practically free.

There is no determined border between sensitive and non-sensitive areas. How, then, can carving a parking lot or running bulldozers in the dunes be permitted whereas enjoying a familiar path in the same area is not? These dunes are not pristine wilderness areas. They should not be attempted to be managed as such.

Trails are a premium recreational resource we should not be losing.

Hopefully the Dune Co-op will not insult the wisdom of those who already use and care about these dunes. We go to these special places to explore, to sit in a sheltered dune and to witness the subtle and not-so-subtle changes since our last visit. The very limited trails that end up on the official maps often exclude these places. The increasing signage is a visual blight on a splendid landscape. Complications of linking trails that continue onto another land manager's property are fraught with red tape issues. Dispersed use would eliminate those problems also.

Let's have these land managers consider the historic and a responsible dispersed use option for managing our dunes. We do not want nor do we deserve to feel like sheep or criminals being herded from the parking lot to the wave slope and back.

The legitimacy of this upcoming white paper will only be had by including the people who use and enjoy the dunes as well.

Uri Driscoll resides in Arcata.

Opinions expressed in My Word pieces do not necessarily reflect the editorial viewpoint of the Times-Standard.

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