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From Gunfire to Campfire: Camping Ahead for Fort Ord Dunes State Park

A new campground is coming to a former Fort Ord firing range.  The California Coastal Commission approved a permit for California State Parks to build the campground in Fort Ord Dunes State Park. 

The park, west of Highway 1, is close to 1,000 acres in size. It stretches along the coast between the cities of Marina and Sand City. Four miles of shoreline, it’s dotted with sand dunes covered in green vegetation and old Army bunkers.

On Wednesday, California Coastal Commissioners toured the park before they voted on whether they’d allow a campground there.  The plans include 45 RV sites, 43 tent sites and 10 hike-in/ bike-in sites.

State Parks has been planning the project for years. The agency hasn’t built a coastal campground of this size since the 1980s. Brent Marshall is the Monterey District Superintendent for State Parks.

“I think it’s so neat that you can watch the sunset over the ocean, you can walk back to your campsite, spend time with your family and then wake up to a sunrise and dolphins in the ocean,” Marshall said.

For decades, the Army used the area for shooting practice. The bunkers built into the dunes stored the lead-based ammunition. Before the state park opened to the public in 2009, the Army cleaned up the land. Tyler Potter, State Park’s lead environmental consultant on the project, said that left about 100 acres safe to host the campground. But only 17 acres will be used. He said the rest of the park is okay for limited use.

“Recreational use, hiking, but again those areas are where the military was actively using it as firing ranges,” Potter told the Coastal Commission.

The issue of lead gave a few California Coastal commissioners pause.  But in the end, the project got unanimous support. 

“This is a historic legacy project for the people of the State of California particularly with regard to our future generations for recreational use and access along the coast,” Coastal Commission Executive Director Jack Ainsworth said.

In addition to the campsites, there will also be a campfire center, restroom facilities, parking, and a new beach access trail. While building on a former Army base did pose challenges, State Parks is embracing the history. Two of the bunkers will be renovated to teach visitors about the area’s past.

The project also includes significant habitat restoration. Like getting rid of the non-native and invasive ice plant that the Army brought in.

The campground will be under construction in 2019. State Parks said $25-million is secured for the funding. 

Erika joined KAZU in 2016. Her roots in radio began at an early age working for the independent community radio station in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado. After graduating from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in 2012, Erika spent four years working as a television reporter. She’s very happy to be back in public radio and loves living in the Monterey Bay Area.