Huckfest organizers aim to avoid problems at Oceano Dunes event

clambert@thetribunenews.comApril 7, 2014 

Organizers of an annual truck-jumping event planned for October at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area are taking steps to minimize parking and traffic issues after last year’s competition drew so many spectators that the park was closed to vehicles.

Started in 2008 as a free event with fewer than 200 people, Pismo Beach Huckfest attracted more than 2,000 vehicles and thousands of people last August to watch more than a dozen custom-built off-road trucks jump in the dunes.

So many people tried to get into the Oceano Dunes in the early morning hours of Aug. 24 that Highway 1 became clogged with vehicles from West Grand Avenue in Grover Beach past Pier Avenue in Oceano, and some residents later complained that they couldn’t park or easily drive around the area.

“We did not expect that many people at all,” said Manuel Garner, who organizes Huckfest with his twin brother, Johnny Garner, both of Nipomo. “This year we are taking actions to make the event better.”

The brothers, now 22, grew up on the Central Coast and have been visiting the Oceano Dunes since they were 6 years old. Huckfest, Manuel Garner explained, comes from the term “hucking,” which he defined as another word for jumping.

The organizers are seeking additional permits from Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol to address traffic issues and will have emergency medical personnel on site, including CalStar, a nonprofit air ambulance service. They’re selling a limited number of day-use and camping passes to better control how many people attend.

The organizers are still working on plans for designated parking areas outside the off-highway recreation area.

For the first time, the brothers are charging for the event to cover their costs, which Manuel Garner expects to increase to about $250,000 from $30,000. Those who want to camp on Friday or Saturday night will pay $100 each night; day users will pay $35 a vehicle (regular costs are $10 for camping and $5 for day use).

The organizers will reimburse State Parks its regular camping and day-use rates and use the rest of the money to host the event.

They also plan to have more vendors and activities for attendees, such as live entertainment. Only drivers who have been invited to the event will be permitted to jump.

This year’s competition will be held Oct. 17 and 18 — the same weekend as the 68th annual Pismo Beach Clam Festival, which organizers said they were not aware of when they chose the date.

“We chose October because the weather is better and felt we could help the economy that weekend, too, because it’s a slower season,” Manuel Garner said.

State Parks, which has issued Huckfest an annual permit since 2011, has approved an initial permit for this year’s event, said Kevin Pearce, chief ranger for the Oceano Dunes district.

The organizers are working through the permit process, he said. They will be required to reimburse State Parks for the cost of providing additional rangers, lifeguards and maintenance staff to respond to the event.

“Last year, we had to bring in extra staff so we incurred overtime to address issues,” Pearce said. Cost estimates were not available.

The Huckfest organizers will be allowed to sell 700 camping passes for each night from Oct. 15 to 18, and up to 2,100 day-use tickets for each day of the event.

State Parks allows a maximum of 2,500 day-use passes for the dunes and is holding back some passes for people who want to come and drive on the beach — but only between the dunes entrances and post two (about one mile down the beach from the Pier Avenue entrance).

Anyone who wants to drive past post two will have to purchase a day-use ticket through Huckfest at the increased cost.

“The public will still have access to the beach, but for these two days we’re providing a special event,” Pearce said.

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