By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Orick citizens revived the fight against their towns slow death this weekend.

Joined by residents of the Klamath Basin, carrying American flags and giving speeches, 300 people rallied against what they say is the federal governments tightening chokehold on their land.

They wont come out and say it, but (the national parks) would like it if this town went away, said Ed Salsedo of the Save Orick Committee. They want this valley.

Last year, the national parks general plan announced it would phase out camping, wood gathering and vehicle access to Freshwater Lagoon Beach just outside of Orick.

The stretch of Highway 101 going along the beach often is lined with a wall of huge recreational vehicles, causing the view of the ocean to be almost completely blocked. It will be closed to camping for good within two years.

For 60 years or more, that beach has been a popular campsite. And those campers have been a source of business to Oricks stores.

More than that, says Judy Schmidt, the Park Services buy-up of land there since 1968 has sucked away jobs, residents and revenue.

It wont be long before everyone is gone from this town, said Schmidt, president of Oricks school district board.

Schmidt said school enrollment went from 315 students several years ago to 72 in 1999 to 55 in 2001. Oricks entire population is 300 now, down from 3,000 in 1968.

Several reasons are behind the Park Services decision to close the spit to camping, said Redwood National Parks Superintendent Andy Ringold.

Crime and the cost of maintenance are two factors. Ringold said the National Park Service collects around $18,000 per year from camper donations there but spends nearly $90,000 a year to manage that area.

The economy of Orick was considered during the decision making. We did a survey there and didnt get any indications there would be a significant effect on the economic situation there, Ringold said.

Salsedo and Schmidt said the economic effects have been building despite the Park Services promise to compensate the town for its loss of land.

They said there would be a great tourism industry to mitigate these negative effects. But woodcarvers can no longer gather their wood, and theyre shutting down camping and fishing thats our tourism, Schmidt said.

Yesterday, George Simmons was at the beach campsite from Redding. He said now that camping is being phased out and vehicles arent allowed on the beach, he wont be going there.

You might as well go to Oregon, Simmons said.