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Our Opinion: Dunes limmit? Worth considering

January 05, 2002

We've written a lot about the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area in recent weeks following a Thanksgiving weekend that saw simply too many people crowd into the dunes.

With that many people squeezed into a shrinking area thanks to new federal boundaries, coupled with a lack of law enforcement, the chance for violence was great and quickly was fulfilled.

We have stated our support for law enforcement efforts to increase their presence in the dunes. We still think that is necessary and we hope during each holiday weekend we see an adequate contingent of officers.

We are not sure that will be enough. We have concerns about allowing 190,000 people into the sand dunes, as happened over the Thanksgiving weekend. Even with adequate law enforcement that many people creates a situation where accidents — deadly accidents — can occur. It also creates a situation where tempers easily flare.

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For that reason we support any effort by federal authorities to study the idea of limiting the number of people allowed into the dunes. While there might be several ways to make this plan work and all probably have problems that need to be worked out, it is an idea that needs to be explored.

The concept is simple, really. Set a maximum number of people allowed in the dunes. When that capacity is reached, close the dunes to visitors.

The idea was voiced by an Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commission member. We know it might upset many people, but with the violence that we saw during the Thanksgiving weekend, drastic actions must be considered.

Some might argue that significant amounts of the dunes were closed to the public and that is the problem. We agree that is part of the dilemma, but it is not the whole issue. Even without the closures, 190,000 people in the dunes is too many.

It is because we want to see the dunes remain open that we want steps to be taken that assure violence does not continue there. One could argue the New Year's Eve weekend was fairly free of violence, but there only 50,000 people in the dunes.

The commissioner who suggested limiting the numbers in the dunes also suggested a prohibition on allowing alcohol in the dunes.

That idea is neither realistic nor right. It would be impossible to enforce such a ban. And a few irresponsible drinkers should not be the reason for precluding responsible drinkers who want to enjoy a beer on their vacations.

We want people to continue to enjoy the dunes as they have throughout the history of the Valley. There are a lot of good people who go to the dunes to enjoy our natural resource. But the situation is becoming a growing problem and solutions need to be found.

It may take some trial and error to find the right solutions, but the effort must move forward. And one good first step might be deciding whether there should be a limit on the number of people allowed in the dunes.

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