Booze ban stems the flow of river tubers
Last year’s Labor Day weekend float on the Sacramento River included the death of a 20-year-old Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo student, 63 water rescues and 13 people taken to Enloe Medical Center by ambulance as an estimated 12,000 tubers hit the river on Sunday, the busiest day of the float.
This year, an estimated 3,000 people turned out on Sunday (Sept. 1) to drift downstream on inner tubes, the number most likely reduced due to the recently enacted Labor Day-weekend alcohol ban on and near the Sacramento River.
By Monday, the river’s visitors consisted mostly of anglers, campers, kayakers and the occasional boating enthusiast. A small number of flotation devices were among the debris left on Beer Can Beach.
At 10:30 that morning, the vast majority of vehicles at Irvine Finch River Access were those belonging to public-service officials. Sheriff’s deputies from both Glenn and Butte counties had gathered at the boat launch to survey the situation, while personnel from county fire departments and emergency medical services, California State Park rangers and California Highway Patrol officers discussed the day’s potential problems. Because Sunday’s activity was greatly diminished from the year before, they said they did not anticipate a busy day.
“We’ve had five arrests for drunk in public, one arrest for hash, and there were three arrests by CHP for driving under the influence, that I know of,” said Park Ranger Kirk Coon. “There could have been more.”
Coon said that there was more than enough staff present.
“I can tell you we had no calls for service on Beer Can Beach for fights,” he said, unlike years past.
There were about 30 signs advising of the alcohol ban placed around the launch sites, said Glenn County Sheriff’s Deputy Heath Rasmussen. Officers searched the riverbanks to see if people might have hidden stashes of alcohol prior to floating, but none were discovered. A number of people did show up to the float inebriated on Sunday and were subsequently arrested on charges of being drunk in public. Rasmussen said that, while Beer Can Beach was littered with plastic and trash, “Compared to years past, that’s clean.”
A couple of park rangers said a man brought a keg in the back of his pickup on Saturday, but officers quickly ended his hopes of getting it onto the river.
Park Ranger Zack Chambers said that people floating seemed unsure of what to do without alcohol.
“The kids were coming up on Beer Can and looking for [something] to do,” he said.
While the reduced number of participants made it easier for law enforcement to control the situation and keep everyone safe, officers said that it’s up to Butte and Glenn county officials to decide if the Labor Day weekend booze ban will remain in place in coming years.
Chico Police Sgt. George Laver said that the city of Chico remained very quiet as well over the weekend. He suggested that many people may have left town to celebrate the holiday.
Compared to Labor Day weekend last year in Chico, total calls for service fell from 1,243 to 889, and the total number of arrests fell from 84 to 43, according to a Chico Police Department press release. This year, there were 27 drunk-in-public arrests, six DUIs, and three cases of resisting arrest. Of those arrested, eight were Chico State students, six were Butte College students, 12 were locals not going to school, five were students from outside the area, and 12 were non-students from outside the area.
“The alcohol ban on the river led to fewer fights, fewer medical incidents on the river, and people behaving themselves in town as well,” he said.
Butte College student Cheyenne Hart said that people seemed more aware of river safety because of last year’s drowning death. She said she’d overheard a fellow student who said that she would like to go floating, but would not participate if there was drinking involved.
Hart said she was happy to hear this sentiment expressed. Although she does not usually float on the river on Labor Day weekend, she said her mother has been taking her on river floats since she was young.
A low river flow combined with the overcast and rainy conditions on Sunday may have factored into the large decrease of river activity this year, Hart suggested. As she as she saw people getting ready for their river excursions, she said she couldn’t help but say, “You guys are going to freeze out there!”