River rafters should expect delays today on the stretch of American River between Hazel and Watt avenues, where county park rangers are being uncommonly stringent about booze.
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A series of ranger checkpoints have been established at Lower Sunrise Recreational Area in Fair Oaks to ensure that participants in the annual “Rafting Gone Wild” event stay dry – at least when it comes to alcohol consumption.
Starting around noon, when the social-media-organized river party was set to kick off from the nearby American River Raft Rentals, county parks officers began checking every cooler, backpack and bottle that approached the water.
A special Sacramento County parks ordinance, put in place just for July 11, prohibits anyone from consuming alcohol in the park or on the river. In addition, closed containers aren’t allowed on the water.DD
While certain points on the river, such as Discovery Park, have alcohol bans year round, the county parks director can place day-specific bans on certain stretches if unsafe events are expected to occur.
After looking at the Facebook page for Rafting Gone Wild, the department anticipated unruly behavior and even death should alcohol be permitted on rafts, said Michael Doane, chief ranger for Sacramento County Regional Parks. A temporary ban was most recently in place during the July 4 weekend.
Saturday’s enforcement follows a string of recent drownings along the river, including one Monday near Discovery Park. On July 10, the community held a vigil for the victim, 31-year-old Aasha Sharma, at Tiscornia Beach.
“It’s all about keeping people safe,” Doane said. “When people get fatigued, drownings happen very quickly.”
The water near the Rafting Gone Wild launch point is about 66 degrees and moving at a speed of 3,280 cubic feet per second. If someone ends up in the water without a life vest – and he or she is dehydrated or disoriented from alcohol consumption – lives are at risk, he said.
The fine for open containers in the park or on the water today starts at $54 and can go as high as $100 for multiple offenses. No glass bottles of any kind are permitted.
Earlier today, dozens of multi-person rafts were being loaded into the river as music boomed from portable speakers and clusters of young people posed for cell-phone photos.
Daniel Dolinta, 20, said he attends Rafting Gone Wild each year. He called the event a “national holiday” for drinking, swimming and hanging out with friends.
He said he was sure that his fellow rafters would find a way to keep the party going despite the alcohol ban.
“This place right here, literally everybody comes over here just to have fun,” said Dolinta, of Fair Oaks. “We’re just having a good time. To me, (the checkpoints) are not really a problem.”