A Rider’s Perspective on the Oregon Dunes

A little less than a year ago, I created a video on the Oregon Dunes regarding proposed closures that were coming down the pipeline. This video then became part of an article published here at Pit Traffic. Over the course of about a week, it spread like wildfire and raised awareness. In fact, it actually caused the website to crash. 

Recently the article resurfaced and got people talking again. The awareness and efforts made last year had an impact on the extent of the closures, but in the end some portions of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area were fenced off. Two sections of the riding area, referred to as Florence and Winchester Bay, saw the majority of the closures, while Coos Bay was hardly effected. Sand Lake saw no changes. To learn more, take a look at the following articles; Closures to Oregon Dunes Coming Soon, Facts About Oregon Dunes Closures, An Update on the Oregon Dunes Closures.

With these articles resurfacing, I felt it would be good for me and for others to revisit this topic. Having done plenty of research and understanding the issue well, I wanted to share my personal perspective on the entire matter a year later. As someone who strives to be objective in their writing, I will warn you now that no group is safe in this article and I feel that this type of honesty is necessary.

Not long ago, I spent a week in Coos Bay with my girlfriend, Allena, and her family. We logged tons of hours and had an absolute blast as always. During our time there, we talked about the closures that had taken place over the past few months. Every now and then as we rode down a long, winding trail, I would think about them as well.

Many of the beautiful trails at Coos Bay are the same kind that are now unavailable to riders at Florence and Winchester Bay. I couldn’t help but wonder if a day would come when the very trails we were riding would one day be closed.

On our last day, as we rode from Boxcar back towards Saunders Lake, I was having one of these thoughts. Just then, as I rounded the corner, something caught my eye in the sand. A faded, half-full plastic bottle sat buried in the sand. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stop and turn around due to the deep whoops along the trail, but seeing that bottle ticked me off.

Not even five minutes later, as Allena and I were passed by a group of riders going much faster than they should have. They also happened to not be wearing helmets, riding gear, or even shoes. All but one were riding without dune flags.

That’s when my face began to heat up even in the cool ocean air. I thought to myself, “no wonder they want to take away these trails from us, look at the type of people riding them.” For as many responsible, respectful riders as there are, we often forget how many riders don’t follow the rules and trash the dunes for no good reason.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not an environmentalist and I’m not siding with anyone who wants to take land away from riders. The fact of the matter is, if we really truly enjoy the dunes, then we have to take the absolute best care of them possible and have respect for them and everyone involved. If that means slowing down, wearing a helmet, using a spark arrestor or mounting a flag, then do it. When you have the opportunity to pick up trash, don’t hesitate.

Every group that is going head-to-head over the dunes has one thing in common, they all want what they think is best for the dunes. As riders we have to show that we are dedicated to making this land a great place for years to come. There will always be those who disobey or disagree with the rules, but if we politely educate them we can turn the worst offenders into great ambassadors for our sport.

That being said, riders are not the only ones who have work to do. As somebody who has tried to research more on the dunes and be educated, I find it frustrating that the forest service has become so detached from the public. Contacting people and finding information is difficult at best when trying to learn more about the issue. In fact, it’s hard enough just to learn why closures are a good thing for the dunes.

It is important that the U.S. Forest Service works to educate riders on environmental issues as the arise and develop. Without any information, we cannot formulate an opinion based on facts, only assumptions and rumors. We often know what’s happening, but never why. Adding information to the website, offering an email service or social media page, or even providing detailed pamphlets at staging areas would help riders learn more about the land they care about.

I would also like to point out that the forest service needs to accept and be willing to make up for some of the mistakes that have been made handling the land. Two things we know are that the beach grass creating many issues for the dunes was planted by the forest service, and that the closures we saw this past year were supposed to have taken effect during the 1990’s, but never did. Accepting full responsibility for these mistakes and taking action to resolve them are something that I have not seen much evidence of, and would hope that more will be done.

Ultimately, riders, the government, and even environmentalists should be able to work together to reach a common ground. Everyone cares deeply about what happens to this very unique stretch of land along Oregon’s coastline. We cannot expect good things to happen if riders are taken out of the equation or their land is drastically reduced, and the same can be said if all land was available to ride and nothing was in place to preserve the dunes. The perfect solution lies somewhere in between and it requires everyone to be working together rather than pointing fingers.

We all need to be as educated as possible, but also realize that everything at work aside from the ever changing sand is the result of human impact. There is no way to have a neutral impact on the dunes because the introduction of grass has changed the nature of the landscape. We all need to decide on the outcome we want for the dunes and the outcome that is the best for everyone involved.

From one rider to the others who will hopefully read this, the best thing we can do is be a positive influence on the dunes, everyone involved, and the surrounding communities. We cannot have a neutral impact, but we can make a great impact. I believe in the power of our own community and I believe that if we unite and work hard to make ourselves better, we can keep the dunes open for generations to come.

Austin Rohr

Austin Rohr is a twenty two year-old graduate from the University of Washington Tacoma with a bachelor's degree in communications. He writes for Pit Traffic, and has raced on and off since 2015.

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