Rafting scene mild, not wild, at annual American River event

Rafting Gone Mild?

This year's Rafting Gone Wild event still brought people to the American River, but was more subdued than some previous years' gatherings.
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This year's Rafting Gone Wild event still brought people to the American River, but was more subdued than some previous years' gatherings.

Rafting Gone Wild wasn’t quite as wild as it was last year.

Last year, one of the organizers of Rafting Gone Wild jumped off a bridge to avoid law enforcers. Park rangers made six arrests at the 2016 event on suspicion of everything from public intoxication to battery on a police officer.

This year, that level of mayhem was not equaled as of late Saturday afternoon.

At the Clay Banks off El Manto Drive in Rancho Cordova, hundreds of kayaks, rafts and other floatation devices moved across the American River early Saturday.

Participants varied widely in age, from the very young to the elderly. They also varied widely in their levels of public intoxication. Although there were signs around the river indicating that alcohol was banned, some did not heed the warning. While many rafts featured large families out to have outdoor fun on a hot day, others had large coolers, flasks and drink cups.

As of 6 p.m., there was no official report of the number of arrests made and citations issued.

While the event’s Facebook page describes the area as “the biggest party on the shores,” there wasn’t much obvious public drinking, likely influenced by the park rangers who were stationed right off the river.

“People are trying (to party) but they’re just staking it out,” said one female rafter. When her group was asked if they had been drinking, all but one smiled and shook their heads no. One member, however, gave two thumbs up.

Bill Thomas, one of the rafters, led a group of family and friends that came from as far as Santa Rosa, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco and even Florida.

For Thomas, Rafting Gone Wild is a yearly tradition. For past events, he has made a PVC pipe water-shooter and a cross-beam water balloon slingshot, the latter of which was later banned from the event. He said the number of revelers has decreased over the years.

“Each year there are fewer and fewer people here,” he said. “I think that has a lot to do with tablets and other forms of entertainment that we didn’t have back in the day.”

Still, Thomas and his group still enjoy the event. “We really love it,” he said.

Thomas also remarked that there is now a greater police presence. In past years, he attributed the cause of many accidents to alcohol. He recounted a time when a drunk man who could not swim jumped into the water.

Many people said the event was fun for all involved, children included.

“It’s summer. It’s the perfect time to do this,” said Chris Yuen, who came from San Francisco with about 20 friends.

While he said he expected some people to be drinking, he said other participants were respectful. “I don’t see anybody making trouble. You have to have respect for other people,” he said.

Nicole Rhoden, a parent who was traveling with her family, called the experience a “great family thing.”

She did say, however, that the alcohol ban may do more harm than good. Since people did not want to be seen drinking beer, she said, they may be more likely to bring flasks with harder drinks.

“People are going to get drunk faster because they’re drinking faster,” she said.

Jacob Sweet: 916-321-1052, @_jacobsweet