California State Parks has canceled hundreds of camping reservations and is prepared to restrict day use at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area due to the king tides expected this weekend.
The king tides, a wintertime celestial phenomenon that causes extreme high and low tides, are the biggest predicted since 2005.
The biggest king tide is predicted for Saturday at about 9 a.m., when high tide is expected to hit 6.96 feet at Port San Luis, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
On Friday, the high tide could reach 6.78 feet around 8:15 a.m. and on Sunday it is expected to hit 6.92 feet at around 9:40 a.m., according to NOAA.
That’s roughly two to three feet higher than the typical high tide experienced in the area.
State Parks anticipates the extreme tides will “impact access along the shoreline” of the Oceano Dunes and leave vehicles no room to travel along the shoreline, according to agency spokesman Jorge Moreno.
The king tides may cause Arroyo Grande Creek to connect to the ocean. Should that occur, State Parks is mandated by the California Coastal Commission to prohibit vehicles from crossing the creek — a new requirement the agency did not follow after it was instated in March.
Moreno noted that the popular park in southern San Luis Obispo County is “not closed, but it is important for the public to know that access may be temporarily restricted or limited depending upon king tides impacts and coastal access.”
The temporary restrictions apply only to vehicle access, according to Moreno. Other uses such as walking, biking and horse riding will still be allowed.
Because the flat, dry beach area of the Oceano Dunes may shrink significantly due to the king tides, State Parks canceled 225 people’s camping reservations there between Tuesday and Dec. 6. The decision leaves State Parks out a total of $4,800 in camping fees, according to Moreno.
Off-roading advocacy group Beach.Drive.Ride criticized State Parks’ decision to cancel Oceano Dunes camping reservations and potentially restrict day use access via social media on Monday.
“This has NEVER been a thing until now! This is beyond ridiculous!” the group posted.
Jim Suty, president of the off-roading advocacy group Friends of Oceano Dunes, said the closure is unjustified.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife recommended the Coastal Commission only ban Arroyo Grande Creek vehicle crossings when the creek reaches a depth of 12 inches or higher. However, the commission decided in March to require State Parks to prohibit all creek crossings, no matter the depth.
“We are deeply disappointed in the Coastal Commission’s abuse of their power in forcing State Parks to close the park,” Suty said.
Friends of Oceano Dunes has filed three civil lawsuits in the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court against the Coastal Commission for its March vote to ban off-highway vehicle use from most of the park by 2024.
King tides have long impacted San Luis Obispo County and can be used to measure the impacts climate change may have on coastal communities as sea levels rise. And now the king tides themselves may be getting more extreme.
“Global warming is driving actual tides to be higher than predicted on the tide charts as warming waters and melting ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica raise sea levels across the planet,” Josh Willis, a NASA oceanographer and climate scientist, told PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey.
To help people learn more about the upcoming king tide events, State Parks is hosting a Facebook livestream event.
“The Ocean is Moving In” will be hosted at www.facebook.com/CaliforniaStateParks from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Friday.