Monday, September 24, 2007

California's Lost Coast Sinkyone Wilderness Suffering From Destructive & Dangerous ORV Abuse

For me, one of the most important values of getting out in nature is its power to de-stress and rejuvenate. I spent this past weekend camping at a favorite spot of mine at California's Lost Coast - just me and Qanuk the collie.

During the week, when crowds are sparse, the Sinkyone Wilderness' lone car camping spot (whose name I just don't want to publicize) is a literal heaven on earth. Following a rugged 5-mile dirt-road drive from Highway 1, one descends rutted switchbacks into a valley full of ancient redwoods, creek-side alders, and a meadow that sometimes contains massive Roosevelt Elk. I've seen both bobcats and bears cross the road on trips in and out. Seals pop up above the surf to get a look at what Qanuk and I are up to as we stroll down the beach.

However, on the weekends -- just about every time I've visited, ATVs and other off-road vehicles have literally torn the place up, from its plants and soils to its soundscape, sending beach birds (and couples) diving for cover. Last night, a group of young adults in 3 pickup trucks blasted down a dry creek bed (that was posted as prohibited to motor vehicles) late into the night, smashing over sand dunes, through a creek, doing donuts on the beach. This morning, a couple told me they'd been sitting on the beach quietly enjoying the night and had nearly gotten run over by one of the trucks.

Talk about inexcusably incompetant land management -- Qanuk the Collie could do a better job taking care of the Sinkyone than the California State Park and Tribal officials who are currently in charge. Last night was not one isolated incident. It's gross mismanagement -- failure to control an off-road vehicle abuse problem that's getting worse and worse year after year to the point that a ban is absolutely in order. The problem is not only extremely destructive to the otherwise wondrous unique natural character of the Sinkyone, but is also a clear threat to public safety.

What is it with these (and way too many other) off-road vehicle drivers' complete lack of respect for other users of our public lands (as well as for the land itself)? You tell me.

If it's lack of funding for enforcement that's the State's problem, here's a plan: there's thousands of dollars worth of unticketed violations that occur down there every weekend. Enforcement should be more than self sustaining -- there should even be enough violators to put some to work restoring the damage they've helped cause.

ORV users often clamor for more access, and doggedly fight new restrictions. However, with irresponsible, inconsiderate, and destructive use on the increase not only in the Sinkyone, but across the country, they can only expect to see their favorite past time banned from more and more areas of our public lands.

There's no place like the Sinkyone Wilderness anywhere along the California Coast. It's managers should start to treat it like the gem that it is and ban ORV's from the area.


  1. Anonymous9:37 AM

    I work with a conservation group on Calif.'s northcoast and am responding to your article: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2007
    California's Lost Coast Sinkyone Wilderness Suffering From Destructive & Dangerous ORV Abuse

    Please send me Dr. Jon Gelbard's email address or phone so I can discuss this with and share written comments I make to State Parks. First question: have you contacted State Parks to find out exactly where off road vehicle are, or are not officially allowed. I am addressing similar issues on another Calif. State Park, and would like to learn more about the situation at Sinkyone.

    Wendell Wood

  2. Anonymous9:09 AM

    I was at Sinkyone a few days ago for my first time and was completely shocked by the ORV's. They were ripping up and down creek beds where the elk were eating and tearing up the beach. They were so loud and flying by us very fast. It totally ruined the moment. I could not believe they were allowed to do that especially with the wildlife so close by. I was happy to see the article written about it but then was saddened to see that it was dated 2 years ago because those pictures reflect what I saw just a few days ago, obviously no change has been made. I cannot believe those poor elk have had to deal with this for so long. Some may think they could simply move, but they have creeks producing water for them there, as well as lush greens to eat. The other problem is the trash, there is toilet paper scattered ALL over the place! The place where campers can bring there garbage is totally overflowed and garbage is just sitting next to the "cans". The place is absolutely beautiful and is being ruined. It is so sad.

  3. Hi--
    It makes me sad to hear your story above. Please follow up and call the State Parks Dept up there, as well as the Sinkyone Wilderness parks dept. to lodge your complaints.

    When I did so 2 years ago, they promised that they had funding for a ranger and they'd be completely transforming the place.

    The state budget crisis must have put a crimp in that plan.

    Drop Wendel Wood (above) an email with your story as well, and ask what he recommends.

    The bottom line is we need to start getting our voices heard here, and can't afford to not lodge complaints when things like this happens, or they'll just continue to happen.