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Our Opinion: To a better dunes experience

April 02, 2002

Only a few months ago our local sand dunes were a mess, and a dangerous one at that.

Crowds were piled into smaller areas of the dunes than ever in recent history, as much of the area had been closed to protect an environmentally threatened plant.

Among those crowds were a relatively few drunken and drug-crazed cretins intent on raising holy hell. They succeeded.

One result was a bigger and more diverse law enforcement contingent in the dunes. Another result was responsible dunes enthusiasts and groups getting together and saying "enough is enough."

Relative calm returned to the dunes over recent holiday weekends, thanks to the cooperative efforts. And let us stress "relative calm."

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People are going to get hurt and even die in the dunes. The activities often involve people going at high speeds in over hilly terrain that can shift with the winds. Accidents are an inherent part of the activity, it seems.

People also are going to party in the dunes. It is a getaway, a place to loosen up, and that isn't going to change, either.

What can be avoided is the drunken debauchery and lawlessness that have plagued the dunes on some holiday weekends in recent years. We have seen that the strong arm of law enforcement and the more gentle persuasion of fellow dunes enthusiasts can discourage those who come to the dunes intent on causing trouble.

With hot weather coming, we don't expect any huge crowds in the dunes until next fall. By that time the U.S. Bureau of Land Management likely will have reopened areas closed in recent years because of efforts to protect the Peirson's milk vetch, a small, threatened plant that grows in the dunes. While we wish the best for the plant and hope for its prosperity, closing the areas only contributed to the problems in the dunes in recent years. (And it probably only prompted some vengeful knuckleheads to go out of the way to attack the plant.) There were simply too many people crowded into too small an area, with the inevitable result of hot tempers fueling conflicts.

Dunes visitors bring a lot of revenue to our county, and our own residents probably enjoy the area more than any others on a per capita basis. We want good things for the dunes. They are a wonderful resource.

While this was not a good season for the Imperial Sand Dunes, were are encouraged that with more law enforcement and people spread over a wider area, things will be more placid in coming dunes seasons.

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