A massive crowd of people rallied Saturday to advocate for the reopening the Oceano Dunes, which have remained closed since March.
The rally, held in Grover Beach by a group by the name of Off-Roaders United, attracted local and out-of-town supporters on the reopening of the dunes to vehicle and camping access.
Participants decked out their vehicles with flags and paraded around the Five Cities.
The dunes initially closed in March due to COVID-19, but was extended after state parks reportedly failed to protect snowy plover nesting.
Walking, running and sunbathing are all allowed, but driving and camping on the beach are still on hold for the foreseeable future.
“We’re not really understanding why some beach areas are open for thousands of people and then to say that driving on the beach with your social bubble with your family is not okay? That doesn’t seem right to me," said Leah Hensley, a member of Off-Roaders United.
California State Parks released the following statement regarding the closure:
“Consistent with State Parks’ ongoing work to reopen parks and beaches throughout the state, the department is developing a phased reopening plan for Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) that complies with state and local health orders while balancing the protection of the park’s unique natural resources and recreational opportunities. State Parks intends to announce the phased reopening plan soon.
The department thanks visitors for their patience as it finalizes the reopening plan and prepares the park to reopen as the park’s topography has changed during the closure.
Regarding the planned protest. This event does not have a permit from State Parks. Staff will be monitoring the situation and will be on site to provide public safety.”
Dune-goers say they are sick of waiting and want to be back on the buggies.
"They keep giving us one date and then another date and then another date. People are planning for their vacations and they’re buying their reservations," Danny Hensley, Off-Roaders United Organizer said.
Out-of-towners who attended the rally, like Sacramento resident Matt Lopez, remember riding on the dunes with their loved ones.
“We actually have our family reunions on the dunes every year," Lopez said.
Others said they've been on the sand with their kids, since before they could even walk.
“My daughter was in the NICU for the first week of her life, at two weeks old she was on the dunes. This is just, it’s who we are," said Samantha Mendez, a Hanford resident.
Several CA State Parks rangers were monitoring Saturday's peaceful rally, however, officials say the event organizers did not have a permit to operate.
Off-Roaders United says they plan to hold another rally after Thanksgiving, but many say they are optimistic the parks will open before then.