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What happens when you put nearly 3,000 college-age revelers in rafts on the American River on a warm, sunny day in July? If Saturday was any indication, the answer may depend on how much alcohol they have to drink.
The second annual Rafting Gone Wild event on the American River drew thousands of people for what should have been a day of fun in the sun, but, as Edward Ortiz and Max Ehrenfreund reported in The Sacramento Bee, the day ended with drunken brawls and passed-out partiers on the river banks.
“By 5 p.m., 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,” Ortiz and Ehrenfreund wrote.
Law enforcement and rescue officials had been bracing for the event for weeks, Ortiz and Ehrenfreund reported, and on Saturday a force of 60 monitored the American River, with help from a law enforcement helicopter.
This isn’t your typical Saturday on the river, however.
Rafting is a popular summertime activity in Sacramento, and the American River section from Hazel to Watt avenues is especially popular with rafters because of the easy current and large sandy beaches that serve as entry and exit points. On most summer weekends, families and small groups of friends lazily drift down the river, drinking and chatting and sunning themselves as they go.
The scenario changes when masses of people gather on the river to party.
In 2007, in response to back-to-back July 4 weekends during which heavy partying led to fights and arrests, Sacramento County supervisors enacted a ban on alcohol on that section of the American River, and it is enforced on Memorial Day, Labor Day and the Fourth of July.
That doesn’t stop river rafters from drinking on the river on every other day of the summer, however: Rafting Gone Wild seems to have evolved as a replacement for what used to be a huge pre-alcohol-ban July 4 rafting day.
For big event parties on the river like Rafting Gone Wild, many people hit the water on large river rafts – some of them tied together to create large flotillas – while others make their way downstream on inner tubes or inflatable pool toys. Despite life jacket laws on the river, most rafters used theirs as seat cushions rather than life preservers.
The organizers of Rafting Gone Wild included this disclaimer in their event notice on the allevents.in/sacramento.com site:
“We are not liable for any deaths, injuries, or loss of property that may occur on this rafting trip and are not responsible for your decisions. AT ALL.”
The event notice listed some of the day’s planned fun as mud wrestling, cliff jumping, music, jungle juice (a homemade alcoholic concoction that includes a variety of alcohol and a smattering of fruit juice) – and “beads for O O,” which, for the uninitiated, is a Mardi Gras reference to an incentive for girls to flash their breasts.
This was the second annual RGW event, and according to police stats, there were 12 arrests last year and aid was given to nearly 100 people. This year, 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, according to the Bee.
But what is at the core of the problem? Maybe it’s the alcohol – recent reports showed less police activity on the river on alcohol-ban days. Maybe the problem stems from the age (read immaturity) of the rafters. After all, you wouldn’t expect the same result from a flotilla of soccer moms or retired baby boomers.
Tom Stienstra writes in The San Francisco Chronicle that, when it comes to fun on the river, there is a generational difference in the definition of “fun.”
“When Boomers venture outdoors, they want "salve for the soul," according to studies by consulting firm Wirthlin Worldwide, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others,” Stienstra wrote. “Above all else, they value quiet campfire time with people they love.”
On the other hand, Stienstra said, younger generations tend to want social events where they can get wasted. “They want it to be easy and loud, with a lot of people at a marquee destination where they can meet spontaneously.”
So, what’s the deal with Sacramento’s Rafting Gone Wild? Does it have to be a wild event that results in brawls, arrests and water rescues?
Is it a problem of no manners, or not having common sense? Would a ban on alcohol on the river solve the problem, or just force people to be more creative in how they circumvent the ban?
Tell us what you think about this topic in today’s poll and give us your suggestions in the conversation below.
RESULTS OF THE LAST POLL: In our last poll, we asked readers “Has Occupy Sacramento been effective?”
28.3 percent responded YES: They've opened the debate and raised some important questions
30.2 percent said SORT OF: They got people talking, but not much has come of the effort so far
41.5 percent said NO: They only created a distraction to more important city business