Oceano Dunes: A comparison


Fewer people are hurt or killed at two other major dune recreation areas in the U.S. than at the Oceano Dunes, and drinking is treatedmore harshly at both, according to a Tribune review of other places where people ride all-terrain vehicles. To determine whether other parks face the same problems as Oceano Dunes, The Tribune looked at two parks that allow ATV riding at or near large bodies of water — the federal Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and the state-run Silver Lake in Michigan.

Riding ATVs has become one of the nation’s fastest-growing sports, and not just on sand dunes; riders also go to the woods and on the prairies, or wherever they can find an acceptable site.

The Tribune submitted questions to managers and rangers in Oregon Dunes, Silver Lake and Oceano Dunes. Perhaps the starkest difference is their approach to alcohol. Since the 1970s, Silver Lake has banned it outright in the OHV area, said park manager Peter G. Lund- Borg. In Oregon, officials banned alcohol in the riding area in 2003.

In Oceano, drinking is allowed but, as with driving on the open highway, drivers are not allowed to exceed the legal limit for alcohol consumption before operating a vehicle.

The issue is significant, because critics and even defenders of Dunes riders provide a stream of anecdotal evidence about the harmful effects of alcohol at the site— from loud partying to fatal accidents. One constant among the three parks is injuries. LundBorg compares ATV riding to downhill skiing, saying participants are bound to get hurt.

However, the number of injuries is greater at Oceano Dunes than Silver Lake. For a closer look at the differences, see the chart below:

Oceano Dunes Silver Lake, Mich. Oregon Dunes
Size of the parks 3,600 ACRES
1,200 open to off-highway vehicles March- September and 1,500 open for off-highway vehicle riding October-February.
One mile in length, part of 1,600-acre dune complex that separates Silver Lake from Lake Michigan. Open April 1 through October 1.
One mile in length, part of 1,600-acre dune complex that separates Silver Lake from Lake Michigan. Open April 1 through October 1.
Fees Day use: $5
Camping: $10
Day use: $6 residents, $8 non-residents Annual permits: $24 residents, $29 non-residents
Vehicles using the off-road area are also required to display a current off-road license, which costs $16.25.
Day use: $5
Camping: $20
Annual passes are available for visitors that frequent the area or are on trips to other areas of the Oregon coast or national forests.
Number of visitors ABOUT 2 MILLION A YEAR ABOUT 300,000 ABOUT 1.5 MILLION A YEAR
This includes visitors not using off-highway vehicles. There are no “official” visitor records because of the number of park access points.
Annual Revenue $3.2 MILLION
This includes camping, day use, concession and leases, and other revenue sources.
ABOUT $900,000
This includes revenue from motor vehicle and off-road permits. The number reflects park sales only; people can purchase permits at other locations and use them at Silver Lake.
This includes campground, sand camping and day-use fees.
Alcohol YES
Drinking is allowed on the Dunes, but driving over the legal limit of the state’s blood/alcohol level is prohibited under California vehicle law.
Possession of alcoholic beverages has been prohibited in the off-road vehicle area since the early 1970s.
Possession of alcohol is prohibited in offhighway vehicle riding areas. It is allowed at some parking lots, staging areas and campgrounds.
Accidents 214 INJURIES; 4 DEATHS (2007) 163 INJURIES; 2 DEATHS (2007) INJURIES UNKNOWN; NO DEATHS (2007)
Age restricting No one younger than 18 can operate an ATV on public land without a safety certificate or supervision by an adult with a safety certificate.
In addition, riders younger than 14 must be supervised by a parent or guardian or another adult authorized by a parent or guardian.
ATV and off-highway motorcycle operators 12-16
years old must have an ORV safety certificate and be under direct visual supervision of a parent or adult guardian no more than 50 feet
away. Drivers 16 or older must have a current, valid motor vehicle operators license or safety
All youth under 16 must always be supervised by a licensed adult 18 or older. All riders younger than 18 must wear a helmet with chin strap.
Beginning Jan. 1, youth younger than 16 must have an ATV Operator Permit and be supervised
by an adult.
Speed limits 15 mph on the beach area along the shoreline used for entry from the street to campsites and the open riding area and within 50 feet of any camper; otherwise drivers must follow basic speed laws (driving at a speed safe for conditions). There is no overall maximum speed limit in the off-road vehicle area, but Michigan law requires all motor vehicles be operated in a “safe and prudent manner.” There is a 15 mph limit within the parking areas and entry roads and a 25 mph limit along the 200-yard-wide corridor adjacent to the Lake Michigan beach. Oregon beaches have a speed limit of 25 mph, set by the state, which manages the beaches from the waterline to the mean high tide line.
The speed limit is 12 mph in or near campgrounds.