An obscure controversy has arisen in recent months over the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area — one that has little to do with the familiar topics of public safety or endangered shorebirds.
Instead, it involves arcane county and state planning laws and nearly forgotten maps.
But this controversy is unlike many that have grabbed headlines since the park was created in 1971 in that it has the potential to profoundly alter its future.
If legal challenges are successful, about one-third of the current riding area — including some of the most popular parts — would be closed to off-highway vehicles.
The park will still be a state vehicular recreational area, said park Superintendent Andy Zilke.
"What it will look like in the long term is the question,” he said.
The controversy has had another far-reaching effect, reopening within the community a broader discussion about the future of the Dunes.
Advocates on both sides are again debating whether continued use of the park as an off-highway vehicle riding area is the best use of the stark but ecologically fragile dunes.
At the heart of the debate is the question of whether the park is the economic dynamo for the county that supporters say it is, or whether the public safety and environmental costs associated with ATV riding are too high, as critics contend.
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