DILLON BEACH: Lawson’s Landing residents received letters last month saying they would be getting eviction notices in one year, and must be out by June 2016, a result of a 2011 California Coastal Commission ruling. Herb Hansen, above, has rented a trailer in the community since the early ’70s. “It’s a shame they have to close this place down,” he said. “They’re just breaking this place apart,” David Briggs

After nearly five decades, the long-term travel trailers at Lawson’s Landing in Dillon Beach are approaching the final year of their tenure. Last month, the campground’s co-owner, Mike Lawson, sent a letter alerting trailer tenants that they would be receiving formal eviction notices in April of next year, and that “plans should be made now in regard to [the trailers’]

By order of the California Coastal Commission, the roughly two hundred trailers must be gone within a year’s time and their lots made available to short-term guests only. A site where many people have lived for much of their lives will, by mid-2016, be set aside exclusively for temporary visitors allowed to rent RV or camping spaces for no more than 14 consecutive days.

Located across from the northern tip of Point Reyes at the mouth of Tomales Bay, Lawson’s Landing boasts spectacular and expansive views, a scenic spread hinted at by the winding drive up Dillon Beach Road. It was the completion of this road in 1956, according to Mr. Lawson, that led to the first campsites in 1957, and since then Lawson’s Landing has been frequented by a range of personalities and professions, from fishermen, lawyers and engineers to hippies, old and new.

Since 1967, the Lawsons and their relatives, the Voglers, have offered month-to-month leases to rent long-term trailer spots for $400 or $500 each that have allowed low-income and blue-collar people to enjoy the coast. Though a handful of people do live in the trailers year-round, most spend long weekends vacationing there. Though in 2011 the Coastal Commission estimated a total of 233 trailers at the campground, Mr. Lawson said the number is currently 180.

The ability to live in trailers at Lawson’s Landing has encouraged tenants to create stable households and neighborhoods, a sense of community distinct from the oft-rushed presence of getaway RV weekenders. Trailers abound with annexes and wooden decks encircle lots; gardens of succulent flower pots and angel’s trumpet bloom below roof-mounted solar panels.

Now, “For Sale” signs can be seen in the front windows of row upon row of trailers that line roads labeled by letters—“A” road, “B” road, “C” road. One trailer is being offered for free, so long as the taker agrees to the monthly lease and removes the trailer by next June.

Pervasive among tenants is the feeling that the 14-consecutive-day restriction will break up a unique sense of community they have long shared. The word used most often to describe the change is “sad.”

A handful of lots already sit vacant, rectangular surfaces of gravel that bulldozers have flattened, weeds sprouting up where trailer-homes filled with gardens and artwork once stood. Most of the trailers are so old and have rested in the same spots for so long that their frames resist separation from the ground; the back floor of one trailer even fell off—coming to pieces like Swiss cheese, a neighbor said—when its tenant attempted to haul it away.

Other tenants worry their trailers will suffer similar fates. Weekend resident Art Smith has been using his stepfather’s ’53 Spartan trailer on weekends ever since his stepfather secured a long-term space in 1984. “We’re going to try and tow it,” said Mr. Smith, a civil engineer whose stepfather dived for abalone shells, fished and crabbed off the pier. “It’s still got the wheels on it. But it’s been sitting here, so I don’t know how the metal frame is.”

Like many tenants, Mr. Smith and his family have a long history at Lawson’s Landing. His stepfather had been camping there since the 1960s and was placed on a waiting list for decades before he finally was selected for a lot. Today, Mr. Smith spends three or four days a week at his trailer, a typical amount time for most tenants. He spends the rest of his time at home in Sacramento.

Recently, Mr. Smith has been visited by scrap-metal vendors hoping to buy the aluminum siding from his trailer; another visitor claimed to be the world’s foremost collector of Spartan-trailer paraphernalia. They’ve signaled to him and other trailer tenants that the end is rapidly approaching.

“We don’t want to leave, but we have to,” Mr. Smith said. “We’re just making the best of it.”

Alec Bennett and his wife, Maxime, are recent additions hoping to do the same. A computer programmer living in San Francisco, Mr. Bennett described the travel-trailer community as a “little-known cultural landmark” in California history, the last legitimate place along the state’s coastline where people can be truly exposed to the ocean.

“This place predates the concept of permits,” said Mr. Bennett, who purchased a Spartan trailer in 2012. “This [place] gives us more coastal access than anything. And not only is it more access, but really the best part of this is the community and what they will teach you.”

Since arriving in the neighborhood, Mr. Bennett has learned from master fishermen in the community—the “old timers”—how to deep-sea fish for salmon. In turn, he has lent to his neighbors his knowledge of LED light installations and 12-volt conversions. 

In front of his trailer, a large mosaic sign made of stoplight shards and bus-stop safety glass flashes “Le Crab Shack” in red LED lights. The lights flash right-to-left or vice versa depending on whether the tide is in or out, and at high noon a sensor triggers a soundtrack that plays Dixieland jazz from the sign; at dusk, it plays “Taps.” 

“It’s such an enthusiastic community here,” Mr. Bennett said. “As long as you have enthusiasm, that’s the only thing. If they show you something and they see you applying it, then it’s amazing how this community wants everybody to really explore and use the ocean.”

But the California Coastal Commission, and others, had a different view about the best use of the dunes in which the campground lies. During a heated marathon hearing in 2011, the commission elected to approve a coastal permit for Lawson’s Landing—which had operated unpermitted since its inception—pending the complete removal of the trailers within five years.

At issue during the 2011 hearing were the Coastal Act’s intersecting policies of preserving environmentally sensitive habitat areas and ensuring open public access to California’s coastline. Staff ecologists found that portions of the 75-acre campsite affect rare shifting dune habitats, which host snowy plovers and endangered red-legged frogs. Likewise, staff concluded that in their present states, the travel trailers did not provide enough visitor access to a coastal region under the Coastal Act.

“The use of private lands suitable for public recreational visitor-serving facilities has priority over private residential uses on oceanfront land,” said staff member Ruby Pap during the hearing. “Present and future foreseeable demand for public facilities is not adequately provided for in the area. These private residential uses are occupying oceanfront areas that would otherwise be available for lower-cost visitor-serving facilities.”

Staff had proposed a 30-day limit for summer stays at the trailers and a 90-day limit for the rest of the year, but the commission rejected both recommendations. Though agreeing in principle with staff, several commissioners went against the terms of staff recommendations regarding the trailers and instead voted to remove the trailers entirely. That motion to end travel-trailer use originated from a list of proposed amendments drafted by the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, which had been at-odds with Lawson’s Landing for many years over alleged dune habitat degradation and a sand quarry on the Lawson’s 960-acre property. (The quarry closed in 2006.) 

“Considering that the travel trailers are empty over 90 percent of the time, this does not fit the definition of visitor-serving,” said E.A.C. Executive Director Amy Trainer during the hearing. “Technically, we believe the travel trailers legally should go now. But we want to be reasonable. We want to be fair.”

At least one member of the commission, Esther Sanchez, felt staff recommendations were too sympathetic to Lawson’s Landing’s financial future, saying the economic impact of the trailers’ loss should not factor into a decision on the permit.

“The economic issue seems to me to be more about protecting a financial plan that has been enjoyed by the owners for the last 50 years in violation of the Coastal Act,” said Ms. Sanchez, who no longer sits on the 12-member commission. “I believe that a proper balance has not been made, that what has been brought before us improperly favors the protection of a financial plan versus protection of the [environment].”

This week, over four years after the hearing, Mr. Lawson said the increased access and interest in camping at Lawson’s Landing after the trailers are gone could, eventually, help recoup revenue lost from the monthly leases. Still, that kind of traffic is at the mercy of uncontrollable factors, like the weather.

“We’re just squeaking by,” Mr. Lawson said. “The lack of money in being able to pay ourselves and our employees is going to be difficult. There isn’t enough money during the week in the off-season to even pay the overhead.”

Mr. Lawson is still awaiting a $5 million deal to go through with the National Resources Conservation Service, which agreed in 2011 to purchase a 465-acre easement for habitat restoration and management. That deal has stalled over confusion as to who exactly owns a one-acre sliver within the proposed easement; it is anticipated—though not guaranteed—to be finalized in September.

Despite the difficulties, he is optimistic that Lawson’s Landing has a viable future with short-term camping. “This is an opportunity for a fresh start,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going.”

Until then, tenants are enjoying the remainder of their time in the trailers. Darriel and Lisa Snickars, parents of two young daughters, purchased their trailer in June and plan to spend every weekend in it until the end arrives.

“We figured that one year is better than none at all,” said Ms. Snickars, whose family has a house in Sonoma County. “We’d take just one day.”

Ms. Snickars believes the campground is making a positive impression on her young daughters. Instead of going to preschool, she said, her children go to Lawson’s Landing. “Life on the water will be in their blood forever,” she said. “These kids are outside all day. I think being outside in nature is what allows children to create a whole other intellect.”

Nearby, Pearl-Harbor veteran Walter Frieh also awaits the day when he will have to leave after spending three decades at his trailer on “G” road. “I have places to go, but I don’t want to go,” said Mr. Frieh, who is in his 90s. “I love it here.”