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This popular camping area at Oceano Dunes will be closed by the end of the year — here’s why

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This popular camping area at Oceano Dunes will be closed by the end of the year — here’s why

Picture of Monica Vaughan
Camping in motorhomes has been allowed on this area of the Oceano Dunes shoreline for decades.
The Tribune
Wednesday, December 18, 2019
A section of a popular camping area in the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area will be closed off by the end of the year — and fencing is being installed this week under an emergency permit issued to protect public health.

“Supporting recreation at Oceano Dunes SVRA is important but balancing recreation, environmental and public health issues for all Californians is critical,” State Parks announced in a news release issued Friday.

A 48-acre area near the shoreline between Post 4.5 and Post 6 will no longer be available for camping or vehicle activity, a closure required under a November agreement between State Parks and San Luis Obispo County air quality regulators to reduce dust emissions that harm downwind communities.

All current reservations will be honored, according to Gloria Sandoval, deputy director of public affairs for State Parks.

“There is plenty of camping north of Post 4.5 and south of Post 6,” Sandoval said in an email to The Tribune.

Friends of Oceano Dunes, a non-profit representing users of the park, sent a letter in protest of the closure, saying that it is deeply concerned about the closure of critical camping area ahead of the Christmas and New Year’s vacation schedules.

The agency explained the decision in Friday’s release, saying “State Parks’ approach and decisions have been informed by public engagements and in coordination with the California Coastal Commission and air quality experts.”


When strong winds blow, more dust emits from that location than other areas of the Oceano Dunes — according to a scientific advisory group — which scientists suspect is because of vehicles that disrupt the surface.


Scientists and regulators are requiring that a foredune be reestablished in the area. That means the area will be fenced off, and eventually, native plants will be added.

“California State Parks has been working with the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) and the Scientific Advisory Group (SAG), comprised of dune geomorphologists and other scientists, to address air quality issues at the SVRA. The SAG recommended changes that they counsel are necessary to improve air quality,” Sandoval said.

State Parks resisted the closure, saying that it would negatively affect park users’ experience.

Following a series of Tribune stories about the health risk caused by the Oceano Dunes and faced with a hearing board that could have fined the agency or forced closures, the director of State Parks, Lisa Mangat, committed at a public hearing in November that the closure would occur by Jan. 1.

State Parks senior environmental scientist Ronnie Glick applied on Nov. 26 to the Coastal Commission for an emergency permit to fence off the parcels owned by the County of San Luis Obispo and the Department of Parks and Recreation.


The application describes the emergency need, saying “if dust control action is not taken, the probable consequences include continued levels of dust and PM10 in the air downwind of Oceano Dunes SVRA that exceed ambient air quality standards and pose a risk to public health.”

The Coastal Commission issued an emergency development permit to allow the fencing. The permit is temporary, but State Parks can apply for a permanent permit to close the area to riding and establish vegetation.

This closure will not affect off-highway vehicle activity in the dunes, a Coastal Commission spokesperson said.

State Parks is in the middle of a public works plan to redesign the park and is taking public comment on proposed projects until Jan. 24. To learn more, visit


In a Dec. 16 letter marked “urgent” to the Coastal Commission and obtained by The Tribune, Friends of Oceano Dunes requests that State Parks be told to stand down.

“This 48-acre area will not be planted until March, so fencing this area off now makes no logical sense other than to harass the patrons of the Oceano Dunes SVRA and to quite possibly cause injury or death due to overly confined spaces,” says the letter signed by Friends of Oceano Dunes president Jim Suty.

“We request that State Parks be told immediately stand down in fencing off these 48 acres until planting is ready to occur and there has been adequate time to inform and educate the users of the park. Safety of the park visitors must not be overlooked,” the letter says.

This story was updated to include information about a letter sent in protest, information from the application for the emergency permit and statements from State Parks.

[This article was originally published by The Tribune.]