Sand Dune reopens with many changes

Sand Dune Park

Manhattan Beach resident Jake Rome signs in for his reservation in the sand dune at Sand Dune Park. Photo by Andrea Ruse

Bill Hory showed up Monday to morning to claim the first reservation time-slot issued for adult exercise on the city’s controversial sand dune at Sand Dune Park since it was closed a year ago.

The last time Hory scaled the dune, he arrived at whatever time he wished, walked directly onto the unenclosed slope, worked out as for long as he wanted to and had the option of returning later in the day for another session.

On Monday, he was met with drastically different rules.

“Although we are happy that the City Council listened to the majority of Manhattan Beach residents to reopen the Sand Dune to continue a 40-year tradition, these new rules went overboard by effectively reducing usage by over 80 percent, all but eliminating a family-friendly environment, and now transforming the Dune into a gated hill,” Hory said in a statement prior to Monday.

The Manhattan Beach resident showed up early for his 8 a.m. reservation time, which he made no less than two weeks before, as now required by the city. He was greeted by one of two park attendants sitting at a table set up near a gate in the chain-linked fence that has surrounded the dune since last August.

He showed a ticket he printed at home to prove his reservation, paid a dollar, signed in, and was handed a form entitled “Sand Dune Park Rules and Regulations,” while multiple local television news crews filmed the scene.

Among other rules, the handout outlined six reservation times between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays, when a maximum of 20 adults are allowed to exercise on the dune. Three reservations times from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. are available on Saturdays. Sundays are open only to children age 12 and under, who have unlimited use of the dune during its hours throughout the week.

Jake Rome (left) and Bill Hory, both donning “Free the Dune” T-shirts, run down the sand dune for the first time in a year, while other users make it to the top. Photo by Andrea Ruse

After a park attendant opened the gate, Hory started using his reserved hour to conquer the dune. He stayed to the north side of the 100-foot slope, separated from the south side by orange pylons strung with brightly-colored flags to distinguish the kid section from the adult section.

So did the other dozen or so dune users in his time slot.

“The reservation system is off to a good start,” said Idris Al-Oboudi, Recreation Services Manager for the City of Manhattan Beach. “Making a reservation works similar to the way city-sponsored classes are managed. Somebody is always here to sign people in. We will see what happens from here.”

“It seems a little strong to have to make reservations during the day,” countered Hory, who in January co-founded Citizens for Outdoor Recreation and Exercise (CORE) in response to the dune’s closure. “The problem was mostly during the evening times.”

For over a decade, neighbors surrounding the park have complained of heavy traffic, noise, litter, and vomit left in the wake of users of the dune, which was built in the 1960s in a small Manhattan Beach neighborhood. During the late ‘90s, reports of the dune’s high-intensity, low-impact workouts popularized the facility and brought in record numbers of users. Last summer, dune traffic reached 9,000 people in one month, according to the city, and neighbors reached their boiling point.

Many have also expressed concern about dune erosion due to heavy foot traffic, and, more recently, the status of a rare plant species, the Orcutt’s yellow pincushion, discovered at the dune in May. Last August, the city closed the dune indefinitely and considered reopening it with a reservation system, limited hours, child-only access and native plant landscaping as possible solutions. Neighborhood parking permit programs and parking meters were also discussed.

In January, the City Council directed staff to pursue options that would virtually eliminate exercise on the dune. Later that month, Hory and resident Jake Rome formed CORE. The organization sponsored a demonstration and collected 640 signatures on a petition to reopen the dune to exercise, which was presented to the City Council. In April, the council moved to reopen the dune to limited exercise use by adults and unlimited use by children during park hours. While many surrounding neighbors felt that the City Council went back on their word, the decision was a semi-victory for CORE.

“I think this is a good start considering that in January the City Council was considering banning exercise altogether,” Rome said Monday.

“It was a zoo down here before,” said Julie Christensen, a Hermosa Beach resident who often stays with a friend in the neighborhood near Sand Dune Park. “It was pretty quiet yesterday. It’s definitely slower than it was a year ago. I know it’s a great workout spot for everybody, but I also understand how the residents feel. There are still lots of strangers in the neighborhood.”

The dune was officially reopened on Sunday to kids. New rules restrict kids under six years old to walking no more than half way up the dune with the help of parents. Kids between six and 12 years old are allowed to walk the dune, while parents wait at the bottom. No devices, other than cardboard, are permitted for sliding down the dune.

Both residents and exercisers from other parts of Los Angeles County reserved spots on Monday through the city’s website, which Hory described as not user-friendly.

“It’s certainly not Amazon dot com, but it was easy enough,” he said. “It took about five minutes.”

The city will monitor people who do not show up for reservations, according to Al-Oboudi.

“Not showing up will lead to losing your privileges,” he said. “After three times of not showing up, that’s it.”

Adult users are limited to one hour-long reservation per day, during which time an attendant monitors ins and outs at the dune’s gated entrance. Re-entry is permitted only if a user exits to use the restroom or get a drink of water, eliminating the possibility of incorporating the nearby stairs into a circuit workout.

“If you think of a golf course, there’s no fence” Rome said. “People know you check in first and it works fine. Now you have to ask permission to go in and out for water or to use the bathroom.”

Rome said that a reservation system makes sense during peak hours in the mornings and evenings but is unnecessary throughout the day and makes dune exercise difficult for working adults.

“It’s a little frustrating because the large majority of Manhattan Beach residents would like to work out on the dune,” he said. “This doesn’t work well for working adults with a nine to five. Part of the objective was to reduce peak usage, but it’s to the level that many residents won’t be able to get here. It’s targeting some groups more than others.”

Marina del Rey resident Jennifer Fraser worked out on the dune up to four days a week prior to its closure. Since then, she has been working out on flat beach sand.

“I’m doing what I have to do to get back on the dune,” Fraser said. “But I think it’s a weak solution. The problems before were on the weekends. I never saw any of the problems that have been discussed during the week.”

Before turning to make her next lap, Fraser was startled by an announcement made over a bullhorn by the park attendant, alerting users that 30 minutes remained.

“I’ve never heard anything that loud here before,” she said.

CORE plans to monitor the reservation system, letting the city know about rules they believe to be unfair, according to Rome. For now, he’s just grateful to be back on the dune at all.

“It felt good,” he said. “But I’ll tell you after about a dozen [laps] how my legs feel.” ER


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