Dunes quiet as weekend gets under way

December 29, 2001|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

GLAMIS — A steady stream of recreational and off-road vehicles flowed from Highway 78 to the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area on Friday night.

It was the quiet before the sand storm.

More than 100 law enforcement and medical personnel were preparing for the growing number of visitors and the potential for vehicle accidents and violence similar to that which erupted here over the Thanksgiving holiday.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management had counted approximately 50,000 dune visitors by Saturday afternoon. The agency expects up to 100,000 people over the New Year's holiday weekend.

A BLM operation plan for the weekend estimates that number based on the likelihood a four-day weekend and low gasoline prices would attract more visitors to the dunes.


There was an arrest for drug possession and 25 citations for such issues as possessing minor amounts of marijuana, not placing proper flags on vehicles, not wearing helmets, and other traffic violations.

There were no major incidents Friday night or Saturday morning at the dunes, U.S. National Parks Service spokesman Roger Scott said.

Lead emergency medical technician John Unger said the first day of the Thanksgiving weekend was quiet, too.

BLM staffers had estimated 100,000 visitors for the four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but that number grew to more than 190,000 in what became the most violent and lawless weekend ever at the sand dunes.

Thanksgiving weekend saw a shooting that resulted in the loss of one man's life, stabbing incidents, off-road traffic accident deaths and an attack on a BLM ranger, who was struck by a vehicle as its driver attempted to avoid a speeding ticket.

More than 1,200 citations were issued that weekend for offenses ranging from driving under the influence to minor drug possessions. Another 220-plus medical emergencies were treated by BLM employees.

Less than 40 officers and eight emergency medical technicians plugged the holes in the leaking Thanksgiving holiday dam.

Learning from that experience, the bureau and Imperial County Sheriff's Office brought in an incident command team for the New Year's holiday. The team coordinates officers, equipment and medical personnel from multiple agencies to manage the sand dunes. The team's command center is at the north section of the dunes at Osborn Overlook.

The operation has five enforcement priorities:

· Driving under the influence;

· Possession of alcohol and drugs;

· Littering and dumping;

· Fee collection;

· Safety of emergency medical service workers and support personnel.

The quiet Friday night gave the team a chance to work out a few bugs in the command system, specifically a problem reaching officers at the south end of the dunes.

Lack of communication was a major problem over the Thanksgiving holiday, causing BLM employees to file a complaint with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The complaint alleged a lack of adequate radio communication is a safety hazard for bureau employees.

Karen Schaumbach of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said two BLM rangers were confronted by an angry mob and were unable to call for assistance because of inadequate radio communication during the Thanksgiving weekend.

>> Staff writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or

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