'Save the Dunes' or restrict access? Decision soon

NORTH BEND, Ore. -- The Forest Service is close to deciding on whether to reconfigure 4,500 acres of sand dunes on the coast.

About 250 people rallied at Riley Ranch on Nov. 10 in opposition. They wrote letters to send to the Forest Service as one last push to save the dunes.

Eighteen years ago, when the dunes plan was written, it designated open and closed areas and riding trails.

But there was a problem.

"1994 we saidyou gotta stay on the trail, but we never said where the trails were," said Jerry Ingersoll, the Siuslaw National Forest supervisor.

Over time, people created new trails, some through forested areas that grew over the non-native beach grass.

Now, the Forest Service wants to re-designate the trails to protect those wooded areas.

Jody Phillips is the president of Save the Riders Dunes, an organization dedicated to preserving the sand dunes for recreational use.

He says dunes enthusiasts want to work with, not against, the Forest Service.

"We want to save this treasure, and I know the Forest Service does as well. I just think that they manage forest. Open sand is a whole different animal," Phillips said.

He wants the Forest Service to restore the trails on the dunes, not close them.

Dunes riders say that 80% of the dunes are already gone, and less open sand means less money to the area.

"The dunes are an economic engine for this area and these people come. This is a destination. This is an off-roaders' Disneyland," Phillips said.

But it's not just about the economy.

Martin Hatler grew up riding on the dunes. He says, "I'd like to have my kids one day be able to ride in the same place that I rode, and if this trend continues, I might not be able to have that opportunity."

The Coos County Commissioners are backing Jody Phillips and Save the Riders Dunes.