Roy Spuhler’s involvement with off-roading began in 1959 with the purchase of his first beach buggy. Thus began a period of almost weekly trips out to the Oso Flaco Dunes with his family. In 1964 he bought a Blue Jeep CJ-6, which would become his signature vehicle for many years. In that same year he became one of the founding members of the Santa Maria 4-Wheelers. In March of 64, there was a head-on dune buggy crash resulting in the death of three people, one a young neighbor of Roy’s. Shortly thereafter, there was a meeting of enthusiasts to discuss safety out in the dunes. The number of people enjoying the dunes was increasing and many of these people gave little thought to dune safety. This ad hoc committee developed the first set of “Ten Rules of Dune Safety” and insisted that a flag be installed on every vehicle. The first major safety campaign took place over Memorial day weekend and that summer saw the formation of the Sand Dunes Safety Committee and Roy’s first handouts. Starting with the fourth of July weekend, Roy began camp to camp visits handing out information on dunes safety.
The following year, as use of the dunes continued to increase, litter became a problem. This led to the “Haul It In, Haul It Out” campaign. Roy gathered used potato sacks from people he knew in the area and he began handing them out and asking dune users to carry them on their vehicle as litter bags. As events got larger on holiday weekends, Roy, as a member or the Santa Maria 4-Wheelers arranged for the use of carrot trailers to haul away the litter bags.
By the late 60’s, the number of people camping and using the dunes continued to grow. The Santa Maria 4 Wheelers held their competition events on the July fourth weekend and the California Association of 4WD Clubs (CA4WDC) had their events on Labor day weekend. This meant large numbers of people and created the need for portable toilets. For several years, Roy would haul the port-a-potties in to the dunes for the events and haul them out afterwards. In between, Roy and his old CJ-6 could be seen hauling around the pumper and tank to keep the potties clean.
Around this time Pacific Gas & Electric bought a portion of the dunes from the Union Oil Company as a location for a power plant. The Sierra Club began a political campaign to stop the plant from being built, resulting in a compromise that would allow PG&E to build it’s power plant in an out of the way and little known place called Diablo Canyon.
In 1971 the State of California bought the PG&E property for a state park. At this time state parks required that all vehicles drive only on paved roads. In an area like Oceano/Pismo Dunes there would be no possible way to have paved roads. This led to a meeting in the dunes with the then Commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation, Walter Mott. The user groups showed Mr. Mott around the dunes and convinced him that a different kind of state park would be necessary. This began the process of the state developing it’s first Off Highway Vehicle Park (OHV). Roy spent many days and nights attending meetings to help develop guidelines for the proper usage of the dunes and determining just how the local Pismo State Park was going to manage the resource. As this plan was beginning to take shape, the voters of California created the California Coastal Commission which, in turn, tried to step in and change the park plan that was developing. The Department of Parks and Recreation was reluctant to fight another state agency so in 1974, Roy Spuhler and the Sand Dune Safety Committee filed suit against Parks and Recreation seeking implementation of the operation and use plan that had been worked out. This forced Parks and Recreation to put pressure on the Coastal Commission, eventually resulting in the 1975 “Master Plan”.
There is little doubt that anyone who has ever enjoyed the facilities of the Oceano/Pismo dunes, owes Roy Spuhler a measure of gratitude for helping to make that possible.