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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Bonfires on Ocean Beach

Today we take time out of our regular ruby on rails postings for a rant about bonfires on ocean beach.

For some reason the topic of bonfires on ocean beach has been brought to the forefront. My awareness began with this article in the Chronicle. After reading the article I was still not certain what position I held in the debate. I certainly am disgusted every time I head down to the beach and see the voluminous trash all over the beach, mostly as a result of bonfires the night before. On the other hand I've always enjoyed a good bonfire anywhere and especially at ocean beach on a nice calm evening. There's nothing like the intimacy you get being in such a beautiful environment and enjoying something as primal as sitting around the bonfire.

That said there's some level of respect and common sense required for this activity so as to not completely destroy the environment around you and allow others to enjoy the beach.

Today was a cleanup day on ocean beach sponsored by a local grocery store. Unfortunately it overlapped with the great world cup final but sometimes that's the price you pay for being a good samaritan. Anyway, we grabbed the dogs and headed over to where the group was meeting before heading down to ocean beach. Once down there we began picking up trash and doing our part to try and help keep ocean beach a nice place to enjoy.

I walked for about a half a mile picking up bottle caps, cigarette butts, and other debris with my trusty little trash picker upper. But then I finally got to the area of the beach where bonfires are allowed. It was right at the very edge of this area where I came upon my first bonfire remains. Now I've seen bonfire remains several times in the past, littered with broken bottles and what not and am always disgusted by the lack of respect, but today was quite different. Today I was actually there with a garbage bag, gloves, and trash picker upper thingy. It's a bit of a different mindset from just seeing it in passing as opposed to when you're there to actually clean stuff up.

I stood there and looked down at the pile of burnt wood, ashes, nails, and broken glass and saw a virtual "gold mine" of trash. Seeing as how my goal today was to cleanup trash I fancied myself being the "winner" of the day's "competition". Yes I know it wasn't a competition but in my mind I had just made it out to be. (See what happens when you don't get to watch the sporting event? You get competitive in other ways)

So I sat there for the next hour or so cleaning up the debris from just this single bonfire. Never moving to any of the others further down the beach. When I arrived at the bonfire site my bag was relatively light and empty as the other portion of the beach just didn't have much trash at all. But after cleaning up this section I ended up walking away with about 20lbs of trash. (Aimee saw how long I was at this spot and came back after awhile and was jealous of my "find" and declared that I was "winning". See, she's competitive too ;-)

Here are some pictures of the trash from just that bonfire that came from my bag.




Now this is just the trash I was able to get. Aimee had some in her bag from this bonfire and I certainly didn't even come close to getting it all.

So can anyone guess where I might stand on the bonfire issue after getting up close and personal with the result of the activities? An outright ban may or may not be the solution but the jackasses that are dumb enough to burn palettes of wood with 100s of nails in them are ruining it for the folks that are conscious and mindful of not destroying the environment around them.

If some tenable solution isn't found due to budgetary restrictions then I'd be for an all out ban of this activity because the tradeoff of the debris in those photos is simply too high of a price to pay for such a non-essential activity.

From the article:

The Men's Circle has proposed selling clean firewood at the beach. The Park Service has available a stockpile of wood from nonnative trees cut down in the Marin Headlands as part of wildfire-prevention projects.

Others have suggested a permit system, but that would require additional personnel and resources -- something the Park Service doesn't have, Evenson said. One person even suggested that the Park Service offer a bounty for nails and staples picked out of the sand.

A ban against all fires at Ocean Beach, however, isn't the way to go, said Brian Burt of the Men's Circle.

"We understand that there are issues," he said. But when it comes to a bonfire, he said, "there's something sacred about it."

After reading that I'm wondering if I shouldn't save my 15-20 lbs of nails I collected today from that single bonfire and wait for the bounty :-) And speaking of sacred does Brian Burt really believe that the fires are more sacred than the beach? I hope not.

So if a permit system is too much of a strain on resources perhaps fire pits can be installed? I'm not sure if that would work either with the tide coming in and out but you might be able to go and just clean those pits up instead of having random spots around the beach with debris leftover from fires. As it is right now they bulldoze the beach every so often which ends up just stirring up all the broken glass, nails, and other debris.

In fact after thinking about it further if there isn't some permit system put in place that can hold someone responsible for the result of a bonfire there simply is no way to ensure that people won't continue to burn nails with wood and break glass in bonfires.

Also from the article, there's also a movement afoot to "save" ocean beach it is said. One where they vehemently oppose banning this activity.

More from the article:

"I'm a fifth-generation San Franciscan, and I feel that this is probably one of the best things about living in San Francisco, in the Bay Area," said Aaron Pava.

Pava, who runs an Internet consulting company, started a Web site two weeks ago -- www.saveoceanbeach.org -- to attract attention to the ban proposal. Since then, he's received more than 600 responses from 151 ZIP codes -- all opposed, he said.

Devotees of Burning Man, the annual weeklong festival of art, partying and chaos now held in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, received a "call to arms" edition of the project's Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter Thursday soliciting comments against the ban.

"It's San Francisco's great fortune to have the prospect of the great Pacific before it," said Larry Harvey, Burning Man founder and the event's executive director. "To gather 'round the fire speaks of a communal impulse that's nothing but good."

Bonfires also are a part of some religious ceremonies. Reclaiming, a local pagan group, holds beach bonfires to celebrate the winter and summer solstices.

If bonfires are banned at Ocean Beach, group members are ready to protest the decision on First Amendment grounds, said member Susan "Kala" Levin.

So I don't know Aaron Pava (The irony of "saveoceanbeach.org" isn't lost on me) or Susan "Kala" Levin, but to them I say, look at the pictures I've posted and tell me that you think the activity of bonfires is more important than keeping that dangerous trash off of the beach. How is being a flat out proponent of bonfires at all costs going to "save" ocean beach exactly? Susan, why don't you tell beach goers that it's because of your "First amendment rights" that they, and everyone cannot safely walk barefoot on this beach without risking injury. To stand behind the first amendment is a crock. This has nothing to do with free speech. How about taking a look further down the bill of rights at the 9th amendment? Are you of the mindset that any law imposed upon you that's for the public welfare is a violation of the first amendment? Let's have a look at what the amendment says....

The 9th amendment

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The 9th amendment says basically this: "It makes the drafter's intent clear that the enumeration of certain rights in the body of the Constitution or in the Amendments thereto shall not be considered to be exhaustive or all inclusive, but rather illustrative."

So you see the rights of myself and others to walk on the beach without a nail sticking into my foot is not to be disparaged by your perceived right to go and litter the beach with boxes of nails and broken glass as a means of expressing yourself. In fact I'm pretty sure we don't even need the constitution to cite littering as being against the law. If you feel the need to express yourself in this way feel free to go down to the local hardware store, buy a box of nails, take some broken glass, and scatter that around your house or apartment. There, now you're exercising your first amendment rights without impugning upon mine or anyone else's inherent right to safely walk on the beach. And make no mistake about it, while not directly outlined in the constitution, we all certainly retain that right. I hope that we can all agree that the welfare of the people overrides freedom of speech. With that argument settled I'm dying to hear how it is that without a realistic solution anyone can be for allowing this activity to continue unabated as it does today....

Check this out, same thing, different setting.
I couldn't have said it better myself as you outlined in your blog. We have the same problem on our beaches here in Ohio with bonfire debris and not to mention the dirty needles that sometimes are found. It's a dam shame that people cannot respect the beauty of nature and have to destroy it.
Great read... it's so unfortunate that people lack common sense or basic respect for the environment and other people. Thanks!
If you walk on Ocean Beach without looking at what you are walking on, you are a fool. How many dirty needles did people find that day you picked up the nails?

My family has held an annual Christmas tree burning every January and we round up neighbors, friends from our childrens schools, and lots of trees and the event brings winter cheer to everyone who attends and sees the giant flame reach up to the night sky!

I do agree that palettes should not be allowed on the beach but never a ban on fires!
I can appreciate the desire to want to continue to have bonfires, I really do, but really at what cost? I simply disagree with the notion that "If you walk on Ocean Beach without looking at what you are walking on, you are a fool.", is acceptable. That may very well be true, but does it make it right? How about this one: "If you walk outside of your front door without wielding a gun you are a fool." Sure it's hyperbole but it makes the same point. What gives us the collective right to destroy the beach? The desire to have our bonfires?

I'm all for having them but only if there can be some sort of enforcement of the rules which isn't in the cards right now. Regardless, we all know what opinions are like and we both have em :-)
Ocean Beach Cleanup Days, first Sunday of each month, north end of the beach near Fulton.
Sunday Jan 7th 2007 -- meet people interested
in designing fire pits to contain debris. Park
Service wants to see designs by Jan 14, 2007.
Mr. Kovacs'

If you see this before March 21, 2007 please contact me at tpenny737@yahoo.com regarding an article I'm writing on the proposed solutions being considered by the National Parks Service to the issue of bonfires on Ocean Beach. I'm doing an article for the local papers Richmond Review and Sunset Beacon and as I can see you have a strong opinion on it, I would like to include your perspective in the article. Thanks, Tom Pendergast
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