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8 Dec

Southern California Beach Tips: What’s Best? a Groomed or a Natural Beach?

Visitors to a Southern California beach usually head straight to the patch of sand they consider “perfect:” Malibu’s wide Zuma Beach; McGrath State Beach’s untouched dunes; or the cobbles and surf breaks of Ventura’s Emma Wood State Beach.

While vastly different, these beaches have one thing in common. They’re all about as natural as a “natural” blonde. Each beach is maintained by careful beach grooming, a complicated and sometimes controversial activity that keeps a beach in a specific condition.

Like a Natural Blonde

Beach grooming is rated in a “hierarchy,” each level a compromise between the needs of humans who visit that beach and the plants and animals that call it home.

Flawless Beaches

Wes Chapin is an  interpretive specialist for the California State Parks Channel Coast District, which operates state beaches from Oxnard to north of Santa Barbara. He says Zuma Beach in Malibu is probably the most highly groomed beach in Southern California. It gets raked to flawlessly smooth sand twice a day in season. But Zuma aside, most busy urban beaches are raked about once daily, by large raking machines or tractor-pulled rakes that  remove debris and large objects.

Natural Beaches

The next level down is grooming that partially removes debris and objects, followed by grooming that only removes minimal debris, trash or non-native plants, and finally no grooming at all, for a truly “natural” beach.

Each level enables that beach’s custodians, be it the state parks system or local cities and counties, to balance their mandates for public use and protecting the environment. Grooming, especially the more intense levels, can remove habitat and for native animals, even if it’s just the tiny bits of seaweed and dead marine animals (called “wrack”) left in the sand. So state agencies and beach advocates must weigh carefully what meets the needs of humans and wildlife at each beach.

Emma Wood State Beach

Those mandates vary by location. Emma Wood State Beach, just north of Ventura, California, is prone to flooding. Its beach remains largely untouched, with natural cobbles instead of sand, which would be impossible to rake anyway. Surfers love the breaks at Emma Wood, RVers love the primitive camping, and wild animals can live and hunt in the brush that grows around the rocky area.

San Buenaventura State Beach, just to the south has some highly groomed stretches, some that get only a light grooming and one area left almost wild, near the mouth of a small stream.

Go Natural

For a completely natural landscape, McGrath State Beach, a few miles farther south of Ventura, is a prime nesting area for two endangered birds: the California least tern and western snowy plover.

The birds nest right in the sand and lay eggs the same color as sand. They’re so well camouflaged that visitors can easily walk through, destroying nests, and not realize it.

To keep the habitat desirable for the terns and plovers, McGrath gets no grooming except to pull out non-native plants such as giant arundo grass, which makes hiding places for predatory foxes. To protect them from humans, visitors are guided away from nesting areas by what Chapin calls, “symbolic” fencing: stakes with lines strung between them to motivate visitors to walk elsewhere.

What’s Best

Whatever the grooming level, Chapin points out that it’s ultimately a matter of preference. One person’s idea of the “perfect” beach might be unblemished sand, but someone else might consider tide pools, seaweed and driftwood the perfect setting.

The best option, Chapin says, is to call ahead, do some research on the Internet, to find the beach that’s right for you.

Source by Annie King

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