Anybody who has tripped over tree carcasses at the beach knows the carnage wrought by winter's storms--and the painfully slow cleanup efforts by various government agencies.
But summer is approaching now and the sun occasionally makes an appearance through the fog banks. It is time, we decided, to send the Beach Patrol into action to survey all beaches in the county and report back with up-to-the-minute intelligence data.
We assigned our quick-strike specialist, staff writer Ken McAlpine, a water-sports expert who never met a beach he didn't like. McAlpine was chosen not only for his ability to actually find every beach on the Ventura coast but also for his life's-a-beach attitude.
"Few things are more precious to Ventura County residents than our beaches," said McAlpine, a citizen of Ventura. "It was only proper that we take a close look at them."
Last January, McAlpine was stunned by the devastation from the first big storm.
"I went down to Surfers Point, and I'll never forget what I saw," he said. "It was midafternoon and the rain was coming down hard, but I ignored that--I was wowed by the ocean, which was mobile mud with huge waves rearing up everywhere. I could see two pilings under the pier, just about to be torn loose, swinging back and forth."
The power of the storm humbled him, but what really left an impression was the island of debris in the water.
"Fifteen yards out from the water's edge, the ocean was like woodpile slush," McAlpine recalled. "You couldn't even see the water--it was buried under a swarm of branches that moved like some kind of living thing when the waves passed under it.
"It was an awesome sight, and in the perverted way we all ogle disasters, it was a thrill watching it. Of course, I knew I didn't have to clean it up."
For months, many beaches looked like post-apocalyptic wastelands befouled by tangled, twisted heaps of wood and clotted trash. It wasn't a pretty sight--or smell. Even just a month ago, McAlpine didn't think it would be possible to restore the beaches for the summer season.
On Beach Patrol, McAlpine talked trash with cleanup crews and found out what a massive job it is to haul whole forests off the sand. He was surprised by the progress over the last couple of weeks. As of his last patrol on Tuesday, a few beaches were back to normal but others were not yet devoid of rubble.
Volunteers are still needed. Hey, where'd McAlpine go?