Public Land Use: Closure Isn’t The Answer

Sadly, as covered in my previous article, Locked Gates Ahead, we continue to lose access to our public lands across America. This is in part because of an ongoing drum beat by well funded special interest groups who seek to control access to public lands. Our ancestors fought for these lands and our rights, and today those rights are in jeopardy. Once public access is denied it seldom returns.

Real Talk

Clearly, our rights come with responsibilities. If we’re truly honest here, one of the biggest reasons we’re seeing closures is because of people. Hordes of people descending on places and trashing them with no regard for the rights of others, or their long term impacts. Some of our best places are being loved to death, and we need to do a better job as human beings to respect the resource and each other.

And while it’s easy to lay all the blame at the feet of agencies like State Parks, BLM, NPS, etc it’s not all about them, there’s millions of us using the land and we need to do our part. That’s a fact, and it’s a part of the bigger picture here that cannot be ignored moving forward.

Meanwhile at Oceano Dunes SVRA aka Pismo Beach

Recently in California, a devastating blow was delivered to the Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area (SVRA) and the off road community in general. The local Air Pollution Control District (APCD), a relative of the infamous California Air Resources Board aka CARB, held a hearing to decide the fate of the SVRA. In case you don’t know, the APCD is a “quasi-judicial body with power to decide on matters of conflict between the Air District and industry,” according to the APCD’s website.

The APCD Hearing Board has five members, including an attorney, an engineer, a medical professional, and two public members. Despite all of the testimony by citizens keen on keeping the dunes open for recreation, these five members voted for an immediate closure of 50 acres of “foredunes” (the beach camping area) at Oceano Dunes SVRA aka Pismo, effective January 1, 2020.

This means the citizens of California just lost 50% of the current area in Pismo for beach camping resulting in half as many camping permits at the SVRA. This also equates to a loss of 50% or more of the yearly revenue for local businesses.

This is a huge blow to ALL Americans because there are actually VERY FEW places left in these United States where anyone can legally drive and camp on the beach anymore.

In fact, this is the the only spot in California where it’s legal anymore, on a coastline that spans more than half of the west coast of the entire United States. Where will we go, where will your kids go, when it’s all gated off?

Unfortunately, the first closures began back in 1982, this article at Hemmings highlights just how much public access has already been lost at Pismo.

As you can see here, it’s already a shadow of what it was intended to be and we’re losing even more of that small green island depicted on the right below.

Historical closures of Oceano Dunes - Public Land Use

From the California Off Road Vehicle Association: “California’s Oceano Dunes District provides a $244 Million economic benefit to south San Luis Obispo County, an area that is economically challenged compared to surrounding regions. $221 million of those dollars are from people who stay overnight in the Parks district, which is predominantly within the Oceano Dunes SVRA. That means, that a 50% reduction of camping in the SVRA will cause an immediate $110 Million negative impact to South SLO County. The popularity of the SVRA would surely diminish, ensuring the negative impact will continue to increase.

If we don’t stop the beaches closure now, it will immediately trickle down, putting all 8 of California’s other SVRAs under attack next. It is time that we all join together, and fight this war they are waging on the Off Road community. If you are not a CORVA Member or Business Partner, then be a part of the solution, and please sign up today. We can win this!”

We must evolve, because Closure is not the Answer!

So what is the Answer? Long term, the answer involves PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY (gasp!) and strict adherence to the Tread Lightly! principles.

Part of the answer also involves just being a decent human being when we’re “out there” on the trail, in the dunes, or in the wilderness. Be a good steward of the land, pack out what you pack in, and remember the TREAD principles:

Travel Responsibly
on land by staying on designated roads, trails and area. Go over, not around, obstacles to avoid widening the trails. Cross streams only at designated fords. when possible, avoid wet, muddy trails. On water, stay on designated waterways and launch your watercraft in designated areas.

Respect the Rights of Others
including private property owners, all recreational trail users, campers and others so they can enjoy their recreational activities undisturbed. Leave gates as you found them. Yield right of way to those passing you or going uphill. On water, respect anglers, swimmers, skiers, boaters, divers and those on or near shore.

Educate Yourself
prior to your trip by obtaining travel maps and regulations from public agencies. Plan for your trip, take recreation skills classes and know how to operate your equipment safely.

Avoid Sensitive Areas
on land such as meadows, lake shores, wetlands and streams. Stay on designated routes. This protects wildlife habitats and sensitive soils from damage. Don’t disturb historical, archaeological or pale-ontological sites. On water, avoid operating your watercraft in shallow waters or near shorelines at high speeds.

Do Your Part
by modeling appropriate behavior, leaving the area better than you found it, properly disposing of waste, minimizing the use of fire, avoiding the spread of invasive species and repairing degraded areas.


Support the organizations that fight the good fight to protect our access to public lands like Friends of Oceano Dunes. Support organizations like CORVA, Tread Lightly, the United Four Wheel Drive Association, the California Four Wheel Drive Association, the Southern Four Wheel Drive Association and others that place a strong emphasis on safe four wheel drive recreation, off-road education, responsible land usage and OHV trail conservation.

Because we’re all in this together.

Do you think you’re not affected by major public land use issues because you live in another state?

Think again, because California policies and trends almost always impact decisions made elsewhere. And make no mistake, the anti-access groups want trails closed everywhere. They prefer yellow gates and control, with all the plebeians corralled in approved areas like major cities and along interstate corridors. The only way to keep our open access is if all of us, and the good groups I mentioned earlier, work together and get vocal.

I’ve been all over the US these last couple years scouting out spots to camp and trail ride, and these spots are becoming few and far between in most states. Many of you need to travel several hours just to boondock, “wild camp” or ‘wheel, and that increased demand is putting a major strain on the areas that are still left in play. With less options for legal places to wheel and camp, we just can’t afford to lose more areas or pretty soon we’ll be relegated to camping in established campgrounds on a 20 foot by 20 foot concrete slab.

Please get involved in local land use issues, because closure is not the answer for public lands. We owe it to future generations to keep the gates open for them.


Vehicles at Oceano Dunes - Public Land Use

The Commandant Report: 36 Hours of Uwharrie

In it’s third year of operation and organized by Path Less Traveled, American Adventurist staff members have been the Camp Commandants for this event since it’s inception, motivating and challenging the participants on many different levels as this endurance event evolves each year.
As 4WD educators, trainers and consultants, we’ve had a unique opportunity to shape the style and tone of this event from the ground up, and we get a lot of questions about what it is, and what it isn’t. Here’s some thoughts from “Inside the Wire”.

What IS this 36 Hours of Uwharrie thing about anyway? 

36 Hours of Uwharrie is a “military themed” back-country endurance challenge. Two-person teams accumulate points by completing missions including precision off-road driving, navigation, vehicle recovery techniques, canoeing, first aid, marksmanship with rifle, pistol, and clay shooting. Competitors are purposely pushed to their physical and mental limits, and must be self-sufficient as they navigate their vehicles to compete in individual and team based events at various stations hidden throughout the Uwharrie National Forest and private properties in Montgomery County, North Carolina.

No outside support is allowed, and they must complete the event with what they brought. No trailers, no pit crews, no pizza deliveries, no showers. Two people and one machine with whatever gear and supplies they can fit inside it. Because that’s all they will have once they enter the Forward Operating Base.

What this event is not about, it’s not a Boot Camp. With the exception of a mandatory period of instruction on firearms safety and first aid, we don’t have time to teach or train them on what they need to know to win. That’s not the goal of the Commandants or the event organizers at Path Less Traveled. Well maybe a little tongue in cheek “motivation” might be needed now and then to liven things up, but the point of a military theme is to inject purpose-driven friction and discipline into the event – teamwork, hustle, safety considerations, execution of the timelines right down to fueling the vehicles at the end of the day, and ensuring sleep and hydration plans are adhered to. And don’t forget that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). All done in cadence and by the numbers. The military theme as operationalized by our veteran military instructors from the Navy and Marine Corps allows us to ensure very little time is wasted while maximizing safety and the overall experience for the competitors.

Each year the event is different. Staff members burn the midnight oil, formulating new and challenging ideas to keep veteran teams off balance, and new contestants surprised. This year the teams had to throw axes. Yes, AXES. As in throw them for points. Bet they didn’t practice that before they showed up in North Carolina! It’s easy enough as long as they don’t hit the hostage!

Think you can shoot? Try hitting steel targets with rifle and pistol and clays with a shotgun when you’re tired and stressed out. Hurry up and safely exit our range!

Why would anyone subject themselves or their vehicles to these conditions?

This one is simple really. 36 Hours of Uwharrie is not for everyone. It pays to be a winner and this event attracts winners. It’s been said by many that the average recreational “outdoorsman” or off-roader doesn’t have what it takes to even finish this event. The maximum effective range of an excuse in Uwharrie is zero meters. So you need to be in shape. There are no amenities. We do not care who sponsored you, what you drive, or who you are in your day job. You need to have a thick skin and a sharp mind to survive here or the forest will break you. And quitting, always a temptation, is as easy as driving away…

36 Hours of Uwharrie is about GO time, ALL the time. It’s a level playing field where a $100K rig guarantees you nothing. Nothing but a few jeers from those finishing the same obstacles in a $5K bomber class truck. Because if you can’t drive, navigate, shoot, communicate, repair, recover, and rinse & repeat then you have no chance here. Because it’s Carolina hot (average 90 degrees and 90% humidity), and Uwharrie fights you with bugs and mud and rain and rocks. Add about 4 hours of sleep day after day with little food and it just isn’t enough for normal people. But there are those who embrace it, who smile all day every day, because they get it.

The real key to victory here is not your rig or the latest high speed equipment, it’s your attitude. It’s what’s in your heart and between your ears.

Gray’s Off-Road featured Tommy and Casey Gray, a father and son team. Tommy lost 60 pounds to be ready to compete with his son Casey this year. This picture was taken on his 52nd birthday!

A NOTE ABOUT PHOTOS: I took most of these on the fly using a Canon G7X Mark II. 99% of these photos are unedited and unfiltered. Real. Just like the fine Americans you meet at this event.

And that’s why they come back year after year. It’s FUN and it’s personal. They’re bettering themselves and their skills and they know it. Just competing in an event like this is a huge accomplishment all by itself. Our Veterans understand when we say that Pride is Forever, because they’ve earned it, and our respect. Like these two cheeky monkeys below. They know that teamwork makes the dream work.

And the question that get’s asked the most: Are they CRAZY?

YES! Yes they are. This event draws the very BEST people from all over the country and from every walk of life. They are the dreamers, the gamblers, the builders, and the fabricators. Professional racers with big-name corporate sponsorship; “regular Joe & Jane’s” who weld and wrench all year long to take a shot at the professionally sponsored teams, and the growing number of husband and wife teams looking for a challenge that’s off grid and authentic. Or, a good reason to get a divorce.

36 Hours of Uwharrie attracts scores of the very best people in the outdoor and 4WD industry. They work tirelessly behind the scenes organizing stations, working media and drones (rumors abound of a 4 part miniseries on this event this year), and the Volunteers from the local community that see the value of an authentic, “no holds barred” endurance challenge that brings out the best in people and honors one of our oldest American values: rugged individualism.

There is no other event like it.

One feature of 36 Hours of Uwharrie that deserves more attention is that it offers great benefit to the surrounding Uwharrie National Forest community in the short and long term. Local businesses see hundreds of thousands of dollars because of recreation in the Uwharrie National Forest, and this event is putting them on the map on the east coast. Money means jobs. And our friends at Tread Lightly! are heavily involved here too: each year missions are purpose built around the TREAD principles where we require our teams to remove trash from the forest left behind by careless campers. All positive impacts and part of a larger picture aimed at promoting RESPONSIBLE outdoor recreation and fun across America.

Teams and Volunteers alike leave this event more knowledgeable than before and better prepared to be LEADERS on the trail and in their community. Are YOU driver enough to join us in 2019?

There would be no 36 Hours of Uwharrie without the amazing army of Volunteers (thank you!) and the visionary efforts of I4WDTA Master Trainer Scott Fields, and this year’s event was dedicated to his memory.  BIG thanks to the local community in Eldorado and Uwharrie and to Mr. John Byrd for being there with his lens to help me capture important memories like this one below.
JOIN US in Uwharrie October 25-28 2018 for American Adventurist’s 5th Annual Appalachian Rendezvous! Laid back, come as you are camping and wheeling open to members, register HERE and we hope to see you there!