Floaters: Rangers buckling down on bad behavior 6 replies

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26th June 2000

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#1 11 years ago

EMINENCE, Mo. — From the Huzzah and the Courtois in the Meramec Valley, to the Current and Jacks Fork deep in the Missouri Ozarks, there's a new theme for this float season: Take back the rivers.

On too many summer Saturdays, Missouri's glistening, gravel-bottomed streams favored by canoeists, rafters and kayakers have been surrendered to partyers intent on making them aquatic versions of Bourbon Street. But those party animals will be playing by a new set of rules this year on the rivers under federal jurisdiction.

Noel Poe said he has been hearing complaints since he took over five years ago as superintendent of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, a national park that takes in the Current and Jacks Fork rivers.

"Abuse of alcohol, use of drugs, disorderly conduct, fighting, nudity in what I call the Mardi Gras syndrome, even some public sex on the rivers," Poe said. "The problem is that during the late '90s, we lost control of the rivers. They became known as party rivers.

"Typically, it was just eight summer Saturdays, from the end of June through the middle of August."

The problem disappeared on weekdays and Sundays, but advising families to stay away from the national park on Saturdays because of the rowdy behavior was not an option, Poe said. Imagine giving up Yellowstone or Yosemite to the drunks and dope smokers.

Instead, the National Park Service has instituted several new rules this year and will have its 18 law enforcement rangers, and additional forces, on the most popular gravel bars and gathering spots this summer to advise floaters of the changes.

"Beer bongs of all types are prohibited," Poe said. "It used to be a funnel and tube, now they're coming with bongs made out of PVC pipe with three or four funnels rigged to a central distribution system. Beer kegs of any size are prohibited, and no Jell-O shots.

"If a ranger catches somebody with a big string of Mardi Gras beads, they'll tell them they will be busted if they solicit. If a woman bares her breasts, we're going to cite her for disorderly conduct."

Alcohol will be permitted, but a recommendation will be made that floaters drink no more than six cans of beer or an equivalent amount of hard liquor. "Alcohol is not banned in the park," Poe said. "I am going to try some other measures first."

Foam coolers are barred because of their potential for breaking up and leaving debris in the water, and other coolers are limited to 48-quart size.

Air horns are barred, and an existing regulation that bans noise in national parks above 80 decibels will be enforced for stereos. "They'll rent an inner tube, set a stereo on top of it, and it just blasts away," Poe said. "We have purchased decibel readers, and several rangers will have them to control the noise."

Cliff diving and rope swings are banned in the park for the first time this year. "It's extremely hazardous, plus nobody wants to dive off a cliff when there's nobody there watching," Poe said. "It just attracts a party atmosphere. Then somebody shows up with a stereo system playing loud music, and things just go downhill."

Another hazardous favorite, "dry ice bombs" made of dry ice inside plastic bottles, also will be banned, Poe said.

ATVs and other vehicles are barred from entering the rivers and are permitted only on designated roads in the park. "We got money this year to go in and sign the roads," Poe said. "Vehicles have to stay 100 feet from the river, unless they're in developed areas. It's a rule we haven't been enforcing, but we're trying to get the word out."

To seize banned items and issue citations, which carry fines from $75 to $525 depending on the violation, the National Park Service will be at full staff on weekends and get help from the Missouri Water Patrol and Department of Conservation.

Uniformed park service rangers will be on gravel bars and other key points on the rivers, and others will be watching popular gathering spots undercover. "We want more visibility," Poe said. "But typically it may be the highway patrolman hiding behind the billboard that catches you for speeding."

As superintendent of the national park, Poe was able to put the regulations in place by directive. The changes were made after meetings hosted by state conservation officials and attended by canoe outfitters, resort owners, environmentalists, service organizations and citizens interested in curbing the raunchy behavior. But the new regulations cover only the 134 miles of the Current and Jacks Fork rivers within the park. Poe lamented that they couldn't be statewide.

"The last things I want to do is take the bad characters and drive them to other rivers — I'd prefer they reform, but I'm not that naive," he said. "I may be causing my partners problems, but we've got to get control of these two national rivers.

"We're getting the wrong reputation here in Missouri."

Saturation Saturdays

Lt. Nick Humphrey of the water patrol said Missouri has the dubious distinction of recording the most maritime drug arrests — for each year of the last decade. "Missouri has led the nation not only for boating under the influence of alcohol — that's mainly because of the Lake of the Ozarks — but also for maritime enforcement units making drug arrests," Humphrey said. "Our big three on the riverways, in this order, are drug possession, minors in possession of alcohol and littering. We also get quite a few assault cases.

"We average over 1,200 a year for drug arrests. There are all different kinds of fines. It depends on the county where the arrest is made."

Humphrey said most of the offenders pull up to a gravel bar and are partying with drugs and alcohol, only to find they are being watched by a surveillance officer in the bushes. "Absolutely," he said. "That's how a lot of drug arrests are made."

Discouraging rudeness

The water patrol this season will have 94 officers working the state's lakes and rivers, with special assignments for the Current, Jacks Fork, Eleven Point, Meramec, Huzzah and Courtois. Because of previous assaults on officers, Humphrey said, it is mandatory that the water patrol works in pairs on river duty.

"There are safety issues when you have drunkenness and drug use and large crowds," he said. "We had an officer hit on the head with a rock and had to be airlifted out."

On problem weekends, the patrol will attack a designated section of a river that is known for partying, he said.

"We pull officers from other parts of the state and saturate an area," Humphrey said. "It makes a good statement that we're working that area pretty hard. We usually do it on Saturdays, when we get the most bang for our buck."

The crackdown on raunchiness has the blessing of many of the canoe outfitters and resort owners who depend on the rivers for their livelihood.

Four outfitters in the Meramec River Valley who put canoes, rafts and kayaks on the upper Meramec, Huzzah and Courtois are instituting a new regulation of their own — a size limit of 52 quarts for coolers. The four are Ozark Outdoors, Huzzah Valley, Bass River Resort and the Rafting Company.

"That's still a big cooler," said Bear Bass, who rents canoes, cabins and campsites at Ozark Outdoors on the Meramec near Leasburg. "But you pass on a subliminal message to people: Don't be drinking so much. I'm building a rack just like you see for measuring carry-on luggage at the airport."

And Bass welcomes additional law officers on his section of the rivers.

"Some of the real craziness is happening because there hasn't been law enforcement for several years," he said. "Floating is a social atmosphere. I don't want to discourage that. But I definitely want to discourage the rude behavior."

Alan Peters, owner of River's Edge Resort on the Jacks Fork at Eminence, praised Poe for his crackdown. "He's taking the bull by the horns," he said of Poe.

Peters suggested a ban on another irritating practice, smacking a flat paddle on the surface of the water so it makes a sound like a rifle shot.

"People like that need to be reminded that rental canoes have numbers on them," Peters said. "I don't believe the concessionaires want those people to come in and ruin it for everybody else. They need to be turned in, just like a bad driver."

No nudity, drunkenness, drugs, or fighting? Then what the hell is the point of going on a float trip? That is what float trips are all about (nutty people acting foolish and partying it up). If you are taking your family to a river, go to a family destination instead. God forbid little Timmy sees a human breast...he's going to be corrupt for life! And don't forget about that evil Marijuana that rapes women and blinds children. :rolleyes:

Joe Bonham

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#2 11 years ago

You're making a huge deal out of nothing. So the rangers want the rivers to be enjoyable for everyone, and not just a few drunken hippie stoners. _____________________________


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#3 11 years ago
Machiavelli's Apprentice;3690493You're making a huge deal out of nothing. So the rangers want the rivers to be enjoyable for everyone, and not just a few drunken hippie stoners.

You obviously have never been on a float trip on a Saturday morning. There are nothing BUT drunk college students acting like buffoons. As for stoners? Not all of them are hippie and people who smoke marijuana are in the gross minority. We need a release and if the authorities can that release, shame on them.


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#4 11 years ago

Since it's a national park these rules strike me as nothing but acceptable, noise polution and drunken idiots running around hooting kind of defeats the purpose of having such a park in my opinion, when i want to go out boating i can imagine that my day would be pretty much ruined by the people that are being targetted by the rangers.



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#5 11 years ago

I agree with Machiavelli and Tas here. It's a national park where peace, silence and nature are meant to be respected. It's not meant as a playground for drunken youngsters (or any other such group for that matter), they can have their fun somewhere else and I'm sure there are many other places for them around.


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#6 11 years ago

I Agree with the above. If people wanna go party and smoke drugs and act like idiots they can go do it at the sand pits where no ones around.

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#7 11 years ago
Jeffro;3690509You obviously have never been on a float trip on a Saturday morning. There are nothing BUT drunk college students acting like buffoons. As for stoners? Not all of them are hippie and people who smoke marijuana are in the gross minority. We need a release and if the authorities can that release, shame on them.

you always release yourself in your home, instead of in public...

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