Sacramento County officials have decided to ban alcohol on a portion of the American River on Saturday to prevent any risk to the public from the "Rafting Gone Wild" event.
In 2011, a sandbar known as Gilligan's Island was a main gathering point for drunken revelers during Rafting Gone Wild. Last year, more than 3,000 people took part in the event, with 23 people arrested.
Witnesses described deputies and rangers having difficulty keeping up with the large and chaotic crowd. Fights erupted on the riverbanks and rocks were thrown at rafters, they said.
County parks officials predict that the same unsafe circumstances could occur Saturday if alcohol were allowed. To forestall any destruction of property or injury, county Director of Parks Jeff Leatherman issued the alcohol restriction Thursday.
"This is based on our experience last year," Leatherman said. "Last year, when people became more and more intoxicated, they began fighting with each other and fighting with law enforcement."
Leatherman said the decision to ban alcohol was based on viewing social media, where the event is posted, and speaking with law enforcement. It appeared that this year's Rafting Gone Wild would also be alcohol-fueled.
As of Thursday afternoon, the Rafting Gone Wild 2013's Facebook page showed more than 7,600 people had been invited to the event, with nearly 1,500 people responding that they planned to attend and 315 indicating they might be there.
News reports of the alcohol ban were posted on the site by early afternoon to the dismay of many commenters.
"It's no longer going to be rafting gone WILD!," said Desirea Legrande. "It's just gonna be a sober float lol."
Legrande said she would rather go to a spot she knew of on the river where alcohol was allowed and that wouldn't be crowded with police.
The ban was issued for the American River from Hazel Avenue to Watt Avenue.
"If there's no alcohol allowed then why go?" asked Zack Fischer.
Other commenters suggested ways they might sneak booze onto the parkway.
County park rangers, Rancho Cordova police and Sacramento County sheriff's deputies will be stationed at all park locations along the American River Parkway to enforce the ban.
Law enforcement personnel will be at access points along the river and at points where rafts are taken out at River Bend Park and at Harrington Way.
Violations of the alcohol restriction will be strictly enforced. Leatherman said rafters should leave alcohol at home.
"A citation and confiscation is at the discretion of the officer," Leatherman said.
After last year's Rafting Gone Wild, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors extended the county's previous drinking ban on the parkway, which covered three holidays Memorial Day, July Fourth and Labor Day. The previous ban was approved because of similar raucous activity, although on a smaller scale than at Rafting Gone Wild.
The board's vote in August gave the county parks director the authority to ban alcoholic consumption on the parkway between Hazel and Watt avenues when he anticipates such events could threaten public safety. Leatherman decided to act on the side of caution and opt to ban booze on Saturday.
"This will help quite significantly," said Leatherman.
Also this year, the Sacramento County DUI task force will be deploying saturation patrols from 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday that will target any drunken drivers leaving the river.
"We will be out in force looking for impaired drivers," said Folsom Police Officer Andrew Bates. "We will catch you and arrest you. No warnings. No excuses."
Call The Bee's Bill Lindelof, (916) 321-1079. Follow him on Twitter @Lindelofnews. Bee staff writer Cathy Locke contributed to this report.