Photos and text by Eric Heinz

Protecting the land and natural resources is a common theme at each year’s Panhe festival, which took place this year on March 18 at the San Mateo Campground.

Aztec dancers, flute-players, storytellers and others performed during the event. There were also various educational booths for people to learn about the land, the California State Parks authority, the ecology of the region and more.

Steve Garcia, who performs the eagle dance each year at the festival, gave his introduction about the importance of the dance as well as what the earth means to him. His speech touched on a connectedness to the planet and its inhabitants.

The location of Panhe is where portions of the Acjachemen Nation used to flourish for thousands of years.

The festival is hosted by the San Onofre Parks Foundation and the United Coalition to Protect Panhe. Members of the latter made statements regarding the protection of the land and some of the current threats it faces.

Members of the organization spoke during the event to bring emphasis to their cause of preserving the historical area.

The 50-year lease agreement for San Onofre State Beach between California State Parks and the U.S. Navy will expire in three years, but officials are optimistic that the parks and the military factions that have vested interest in the land could come to an amicable agreement.

The area of Panhe is also located across from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), which recently started transferring spent nuclear fuel to dry-cask storage, a move that’s been criticized by environmentalists. The operators of SONGS can’t move the fuel unless/until authorized by the Department of Energy.

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Finally, the looming toll road proposals that could be built through San Clemente still makes people nervous, especially those who fought for absolution from such construction. A settlement and protective agreement was forged between the Save San Onofre Coalition and the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) in 2016, but that settlement is being challenged by the city of San Clemente and a homeowners association, as it caused the TCA to draw toll road proposals through San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano and to develop other traffic-alleviating methods.

There are a few storms that are always on the Panhe horizon.

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