Same party, different river
The parking lot was filled, cars lined the highway, people carried their booze and tubes to the river—just another Labor Day beer bash.
But this was the Feather River, not the Sacramento, and the spot to party wasn’t Beer Can Beach, but rather a place called Sandy Beach, known to many as the Highway 70 rope swing.
When trains rolled by on the tracks that hugged the mountain across the river, 1,500 partiers held up their cups and cheered. Guys and gals hurled over the water, suspended in air by the mother of all rope swings. The crowd cheered double back flips and laughed at belly flops.
“This is Chico’s new Labor Day,” Chico State student Logan Hunter said. “Police took away the float, so we’ve started a new tradition at the Highway 70 rope swing.”
Hunter said he floated the Sacramento River in 2004 but he has gone to Sandy Beach the past two years.
In 2004, officials estimated a small city’s worth of tubers, nearly 28,000 people, floated the Sacramento, said Janet Upton, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry.
Upton, a Chico State alumna, floated the river during “the good years” but said the sheer volume of people became unmanageable, resulting in too many injuries and fights—a nightmare for rescuers and law enforcement.
After 2004, the Chico Police Department worked with the city of Chico to produce an ad campaign that ran on TV, radio and in newspapers, Sgt. Dave Barrow said. The campaign warned tubers that there would be strict parking restrictions and a beefed-up police presence.
Parking was prohibited on Highway 32 near the Sacramento River in 2005 and again this year, causing people to walk with their gear nearly a mile, California Highway Patrol Officer Justin Maxey said.
In 2005 the numbers dropped from 28,000 to 1,500 floaters, Barrow said. This year only around 200 people floated on Labor Day.
“For a water weekend,” CDF Battalion Chief Greg McFadden said, “it was a very quiet weekend.” The big day was Sunday. About 1,900 people floated, then chose to go to Sandy Beach Monday.
“On Sunday, a party was organized that used charter buses to drop kids off at the river,” said Michael Fehling, a unit superintendent with California State Parks. “Some of the kids were so inebriated we could not let them go on the river for their own safety.”
Fehling said officers made three arrests for being drunk in public and issued eight citations for alcohol-related offenses over the weekend.
“If they would let us park anywhere close to the Sac we’d probably go floating, but they don’t, so we don’t float,” said Evan Quaco, who was a sober driver and took 11 of his friends to the rope swing in the “Quaco Bus,” a Dodge Ram van.
For most of Labor Day at Sandy Beach, the only cop in sight was CHP officer Blair Parrott, who cruised Highway 70 citing illegally parked cars.
Around 3 p.m., Sgt. Jim Larrote and his team of Butte County sheriff’s deputies arrived at Sandy Beach to monitor the party. There were no police at the beach in 2005.
“We’re here because there are more people here than there are floating the Sac,” Larrote said. “We just want to make sure nothing gets out of hand, but it looks like everyone’s just partying and having a good time.”
“Hell yeah, we love this place,” people screamed as the deputies walked by, watching them take chugs off beer bongs and drink wine from a box.