Even the most serene setting can turn ugly, given enough time and alcohol.
That truism was proved Saturday on the American River during the second annual Rafters Gone Wild. Luring more than 3,000 people onto the water for a peaceful float, the event eventually degenerated into a series of brawls and rock-throwing incidents.
For much of the day, law enforcement and fire rescue officials busied themselves keeping watch over rafters having trouble with rapids or falling out of their boats.
By 5 p.m., however, dozens were fighting on the shores of Ancil Hoffman Park, beating each other with paddles or rocks and hurling stones at fire and rescue boats, officials said.
"It started out fairly reasonable, but as they day went on, the drunkenness and the fights increased with them," said Sgt. Randy Lewis, a Sacramento County park ranger. He added that law enforcement officials were dealing with fights constantly after 5 p.m.
Some of the group that had battled at Ancil Hoffman returned to the water and headed downstream for more fighting at River Bend Park, where most of the rafters were ending their day.
No serious injuries were reported, and officials said they had no tally Saturday evening of how many arrests and rescues were made during the event.
Law enforcement and rescue officials had been bracing for the event for weeks. On Saturday a force of 60 monitored the American River, with help from a law enforcement helicopter.
This year law enforcement took a preventive approach by roping off a sandbar known as Gilligan's Island, which was a main gathering point for drunken revelers at last year's Rafters Gone Wild and a potential trouble spot for police.
At the launch point near Sunrise Boulevard, the distinct scent of inner tube and raft rubber hovered in the air Saturday morning as rafters many with coolers filled with alcohol set off.
Their course would take them to River Bend Park several miles downstream, where buses waited to take them back.
This year's event took place in temperatures much cooler than the 100-degree-plus days earlier in the week.
Temperatures for the region topped off in the high 80s Saturday.
Owner Dave Hill said business at American River Raft Rentals off Sunrise Boulevard was at least 25 percent higher than it was for last year's Rafters Gone Wild.
"Business is just blowing up here," said Hill.
He said he expected to rent all 250 of his available rafts on what was shaping up to be his biggest day of the year.
"What this reminds me of is the old Fourth of July before the alcohol ban," said Hill. "This event has kind of replaced that."
Hill referred to a ban on alcohol on the American River, which is enforced on Memorial Day, Labor Day and the Fourth of July. He said the alcohol ban had a palpable effect on business on July Fourth this summer.
"But we don't mind that at all," said Hill. "The Fourth used to be a good day for business, but it was a scary day for our employees and tough on our equipment."
That experience was being revisited at his business Saturday, with long lines snaking out into the parking lot and harried employees rushing frantically to keep up with the demand and set up rafts.
Rafters Gone Wild may have been a response to the ban on alcohol on the river on Independence Day. On Saturday, alcohol was allowed on the river, except at Sarah Court and Paradise Beach and along the last six miles of the American River, according to park rangers.
"This year many rafters congregated on the shore" at Ancil Hoffman Park, said Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District Deputy Chief Scott Cockrum.
That location allowed rafters to party over a wider area as well as in the shade, Cockrum said.
Most who took to the water Saturday did so on river rafts, although a great number were making their way downstream on small inner tubes, and some even were perched atop inflatable pool toys. The suggested life jacket was a rare sight among the throng of young rafters launching their inflatables at the Sunrise location.
One of the most popular rafting activities Saturday was to tie together more than two rafts into mini-flotillas, as was the intention of Sacramentan Marshall Tedrow, who came to the Sunrise setoff point with a party of nine.
"We're going to tie five rafts together," Tedrow said.
He said one raft would be used specifically to hold a large stereo as well as a gallon container of the must-have jungle juice.
That home brew would include 151-proof rum, vodka, Sprite, orange juice, Everclear and wine, said rafting jungle juice mixologist Brittany Ward.
"This only took 10 minutes to make. You have to get frozen fruit and let it all soak overnight," Ward said.
"There are so many intoxicated people it's like ridiculous," said Marisa Taylor, 20, who lives in Lodi and came to the American River for the day.
Although a majority of the rafters were in their 20s, there also were many young families who decided to come for a sun-soaked run down the river.
"We have little ones so I think we'll stay away from people with beer cans," said Sacramentan Wilson Lee, who was part of a two-family group. That group was lugging three rafts to be shared by 12 rafters, most of them young children.