Dudes on the dunes

  • Great Sand Dunes Nat'l Monument in Colorado

    Sherm Spoelstra photo
  -We struggled to scramble up near-vertical walls of loose sand," writes Mark North in the online magazine Explore. "Still, the weight of the tent, beer, snowboard and snowboard boots on my backpack didn't topple me over ... At the summit, we'd swap snowshoes for snowboards ... spray on a coat of Pledge to increase glide, then ride the slow, mad carve down the hot sand to a cool drink at the bottom."

Never heard of sandboarding? You're not alone. But adventures like North's in Park Service wilderness areas have some wilderness activists concerned.

"It's definitely not compatible with wilderness values," Scott Silver of the Bend, Ore.-based group Wild Wilderness says of the fledgling sport. He fears the boarders will flatten native dune vegetation and disrupt the solitude of other visitors. Although sandboarding doesn't use motors, Silver doesn't think it qualifies as a "primitive" form of recreation - the only sort permitted in federal wilderness areas. "Unfortunately, the language of the Wilderness Act is not unambiguous," he says.

Steve Chaney, the superintendent of Great Sand Dunes National Monument in southern Colorado, says there's no reason to worry. "We look at it as kind of a non-issue here," he says, and adds that park rangers rarely see more than one sandboarder per week during the summer season. "Frankly, a board sliding down a steep dune moves less sand than a hiker running and jumping down the side of a dune," he says.

Rangers do advise sandboarders not to use furniture polish on their boards, but the park has no official policy on the sport.

Wilderness areas within Death Valley National Park are also visited by sandboarders. While sandboarding is discouraged at sites with sensitive plants, it is permitted in other areas within the park. Park staffers say they have no plans to restrict the sport.

Silver isn't reassured. "There's this whole issue of nontraditional uses of public lands," he says. "As creative as people are, there are going to be new things created every year. Sandboarding is just part of that trend."

*Michelle Nijhuis

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