The rowdy spirits of a highly anticipated river rafting event were stifled Saturday as county park rangers put a heavy foot down on alcohol consumption.
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The American River attracts all sorts of people, from college-age partiers to middle-aged revelers to young families. Saturday’s gathering included attendees of Rafting Gone Wild – an all-day river party organized largely on social media – whose presence prompted an all-day alcohol ban for a popular stretch of water.
Danielle Foster of Hayward wore a white veil and protected the ice chest as her bridal party collected their raft for a bachelorette outing. The party of seven, including friends from Minnesota and Texas, came to Sacramento. Tanning, fun and sun sounded awesome, she said.
But before she and her bridesmaids made it to the water, they were stopped by a fellow boater warning them that law enforcement would be checking their cooler for alcohol.
A special Sacramento County parks ordinance, put in place just for Saturday, prohibited anyone from consuming alcohol in parks or on the river between Hazel and Watt avenues. 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. A temporary ban was most recently in place during the July Fourth weekend.
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. In 2012, before alcohol was banned from the event, 23 citations were given and a rash of drunken brawls occurred.
This year, 15 citations were given as of 5 p.m. Saturday, all for open containers in parks and on the river. The fines for open containers Saturday started at $54. One participant was pulled from the water with a dislocated shoulder that he sustained while jumping from one raft to another, but there were no serious injuries, Doane said.
“We’re pleased that no major events occurred today,” he said. “This was exactly why we put the ban in place.”
Saturday’s enforcement follows a string of recent drownings along the river, including one Monday near Discovery Park. On Friday, the community held a vigil for the victim, 31-year-old Aasha Sharma, at Tiscornia Beach.
The water in the area targeted Saturday, near American River Raft Rentals in Rancho Cordova, was about 66 degrees and moving at a speed of 3,280 cubic feet per second. If someone ended up in the water without a life vest – and he or she were dehydrated or disoriented from alcohol consumption – the situation could have become dire quickly, Doane said.
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.
“This place right here, literally everybody comes over here just to have fun,” said Dolinta, a Fair Oaks resident. “To me, (the checkpoints) are not really a problem.”
But for visitors who expected a leisurely day on the water, the ban was a confusing inconvenience.
Antioch resident Jeff Smith said he had planned a rafting day with his family two months in advance and packed a responsible quantity of beer for the ride without knowing about the special ban. His group traveled two hours to launch at Lower Sunrise Recreation Area, only to be sent back to their cars to ditch the beer.
“Now, they’re just going to have a lot of angry people,” he said. “You think you can have a nice day, a couple of cold ones ... it’s just so frustrating. Now we have to be sober, on a Saturday afternoon.”
At American River Raft Rentals, manager Kent Hansen said he did about two-thirds as much business as a typical Saturday because the Rafting Gone Wild event scared off families or deterred people who expected to be able to drink.
At Ancil Hoffman Park in Carmichael, beachgoer Trishia Ures said she had to acquire a special park permit to have alcohol at her cousin’s wedding reception, which was also being held on the river Saturday. Though inconvenient, she said she was glad the ban was in place given the recent number of drownings in the area.
“People shouldn’t be drinking in the river anyway – it’s not smart,” she said. “This ban should definitely help.”